Saturday, February 2, 2008
A picture doesn't lie -- the one-hundred-and-five-story Ryugyong Hotel is hideous, dominating the Pyongyang skyline like some twisted North Korean version of Cinderella's castle. Not that you would be able to tell from the official government photos of the North Korean capital -- the hotel is such an eyesore, the Communist regime routinely covers it up, airbrushing it to make it look like it's open -- or Photoshopping or cropping it out of pictures completely.
Even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly, a series of three gray 328-foot long concrete wings shaped into a steep pyramid. With 75 degree sides that rise to an apex of 1,083 feet, the Hotel of Doom (also known as the Phantom Hotel and the Phantom Pyramid) isn't the just the worst designed building in the world -- it's the worst-built building, too. In 1987, Baikdoosan Architects and Engineers put its first shovel into the ground and more than twenty years later, after North Korea poured more than two percent of its gross domestic product to building this monster, the hotel remains unoccupied, unopened, and unfinished.
Construction on the Hotel of Doom stopped in 1992 (rumors maintain that North Korea ran out of money, or that the building was engineered improperly and can never be occupied) and has never started back up, which shouldn't come as a shock. After all, who the hell travels to beautiful downtown Pyongyang? It would make sense if the hotel were in South Korea, where Americans are allowed to travel and where projects like the Busan Lotte Tower and the Lotte Super Tower now rise thousands of feet above the formerly modest skyline.
With Pyongyang's official population said to range between 2.5 million and 3.8 million (official numbers are not made available by the North Korean government), the Ryugyong Hotel -- the 22nd largest skyscraper in the world -- is a failure on an enormous scale. To put it in context, imagine if the John Hancock Center (1,127 feet tall) in Chicago (population 2.9 million) was not only completely vacant, but unfinished with zero hope of ever being completed.
You may not be able to actually live there, but the building now has its own virtual real estate managers, Richard Dank and Andreas Gruber, a pair of German architects and self-described "custodians of the pyramid's diverse manifestations." The duo run Ryugyong.org, which they describe as an "experimental collaborative online architecture site." Sad you can't visit the building in real life? Log on, view the detailed 3-D models, and "claim" a subsection for yourself.
The Demolition S How video by the Italian architects Extraneo might not be as conceptual as Ryugyong.org, but this piece of architectural porn sure is fun to watch. The video (which you can watch above) was mounted as part of the exhibition Fiction Pyongyang, curated in part by Stefano Boeri, who also collected 120 speculative designs for the hotel in the June 2006 domus magazine. The designs, he says, "have forced it to reveal its icy nature, its irresistible fascination as a fragile alien meteorite." The worst building in the world is also, we now know, "the only built piece of science fiction in the contemporary world." And it's true. Demolition S How is all Blade Runner-style flying ads and soaring concrete, and the video reminds us that the worst building in the world is the closest humans have come to building a Death Star.
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