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Architecture of Pyongyang revealed in new publication

Television coverage of Kim Jong-Il’s funeral has provided a rare glimpse of Pyongyang’s streets and monumental architecture. The Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang, a timely release from DOM Publications, provides a guide to the ambitious, often spectacular - and sometimes odd - structures of North Korea’s capital.

Volume One of the guide provides colour photographs of nearly 100 buildings in Pyongyang, divided into typologies such as Urban Planning, Residential Buildings, Cultural Venues, Infrastructure and Monuments.

Korean Revolution Museum, 1972 © Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang/DPRK

Korean Revolution Museum, 1972 © Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang/DPRK

Volume Two provides more commentary, most strikingly from the recently departed Kim Jong-Il himself, who’s treatise On Architecture provides fascinating insights into his beliefs about the built environment and the role it played in promoting his ideology.

The Party Foundation Monument features the three pillars of society: workers (hammer), peasants (sickle), and intellectuals (calligraphy brush). Meuser/DOM publishers.

The Party Foundation Monument, which features the three pillars of society: workers (hammer), peasants (sickle), and intellectuals (calligraphy brush). Meuser/DOM publishers.

Summing up his theory, Kim Jong-Il wrote: ‘Architecture is more closely related to human life than any other product of creative human labour. Without architectural structures it would be impossible to ensure the basic material conditions for human life itself. Architecture is a product of social history.’

Abandoned construction site of the Ryugyong Hotel from the south-east (2005). Meuser/DOM publishers.

Abandoned construction site of the Ryugyong Hotel from the south-east (2005). Meuser/DOM publishers.

On the prevalence of monuments in North Korea, when housing is in such bad condition, Kim Jong-Il provided an explanation: ‘Monumental structures are the best visual and lasting means of conveying… achievements and… greatness to posterity. Monuments remain with mankind forever and therefore have positive effects on people’s ideas regardless of social progress and change of generations.’

A mosaic mural at the Foreign Languages Publishing House of Kim Jong-il examining proofs. Meuser/DOM publishers.

A mosaic mural at the Foreign Languages Publishing House of Kim Jong-il examining proofs. Meuser/DOM publishers.

‘Balance is attained by symmetry. Symmetry is the external form and means of expressing the balance of shapes and weight as well as the prerequisite for attaining an atmosphere of respect.’

Arch of Reunification, 2001. © Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Arch of Reunification, 2001. © Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

As for the poor attitude shown by many architects, Kim Jong-Il wrote: ‘Architects must accept and fulfil the leader’s plan and determination not as orders and duty but as a matter of pleasure and honour.’

The Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang
Philipp Meuser (Ed)
DOM Publishing
368 pages, 2 volumes, hardback

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