World's strangest hotel to finally open - maybe


July 31, 2011

Finally the citizens of North Korea can acknowledge the hotel's existence

Finally the citizens of North Korea can acknowledge the hotel's existence

Image Gallery (11 images)

The Ryugyong Hotel in the center of North Korea's capital city Pyongyang, must count as one of the strangest building projects, not to say one of the ugliest, in the world. Construction began in 1987 and continued until its abandonment in 1993 when the projected cost of required remedial rebuilding was simply too much for the impoverished city and state to bear. Now, twenty-four years after the first concrete block was laid, it's finally finished - kinda...

Designed in the 80s Brutalist Sci-Fi style so beloved of Marxist dictators of the time, the 105 floor Ryugyong Hotel at 330 meters (1,082 feet) was to be one of the tallest buildings outside of the US - a towering monument to the success of North Korea and its leader Kim Il-Sung. Unfortunately by 1992 The Soviet Union had collapsed taking with it its significant financial support of the North Korean economy and the cripplingly expensive project could not continue while the country slipped into poverty.

For fifteen years the citizens of Pyongyang simply chose to deny the existence of the abandoned concrete shell, even though it completely dominates the city's skyline and western visitors found it bizarrely impossible to direct a taxi towards the site. It became a popular Google Earth destination and attracted the nickname 'Hotel of Doom.'

Then in 2008 reports started surfacing about activity on the site. This was somewhat surprising since long-time observers of the project in South Korea had estimated the cost of repairing, making safe and finishing to be in the US$1-$2 billion region. It emerged that an Egyptian conglomerate Orascom had committed $400 million to completion of the building. Interestingly there is no mention of the project on Orascom's building development roster and it will only say that its telecom subsidiary is involved - the same telecom subsidiary that is helping to rebuild the country's telephone infrastructure.

Business Insider reported last week that the exterior had been completed and work was continuing on the interior for an opening in 2012 to celebrate an anniversary of the present 'Eternal Leader' Kim Jong-Il, a driving force in the project's origins. Indeed the exterior is now fully clad in that blue-green mirror glass of 90s excess. We suspect that although some element of the interior will be finished for PR purposes there is no way on earth that the building will be opened as a working hotel. It seems likely that as part of the deal Orascom brokered to supply the telecoms for an entire country they agreed to complete the facade of the Ryugyong and spare North Korea's blushes after eighteen years.

A 3,000 suite hotel with five revolving restaurants makes no sense in a country where no national could afford to stay and there is no tourist industry. But then again many things make no sense in North Korea.

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog. All articles by Vincent Rice

actually, I\'d love to travel to North Korea if given the opportunity.

Michael Shewell

This building may be strange looking, but compared to those drab boxy buildings next to it, this building with the glass covering completed looks very futuristic and impressive. Like a rocket-ship about to launch. Very cool! It would be a good omen if North Korea is starting to think about opening up and becoming more progressive.


What crap journism - using smug put downs... like \"it must count as one of the strangest building projects, not to say one of the ugliest\".

Given how corrupt the USA and it\'s financial, legal, political, corporate and military actually are - perhaps a bit of \"communal-ism\" might not be a bad thing.

Mr Stiffy

Certainly different from the standard commonist slab block design. Innovative design, certainly not ugly, just different. Pathetic story line Mr Rice, very poor journalism.


It\'s really Desdemona\'s rocket ship. ;)

Gregg Eshelman

I thought this project had been abandoned, when a leading architectural magazine put out a call to deside what should be done with it. the general concensus on the project was to leave the unfinished monstrosity as a monument to empty promises of a despotic regeme. perhaps they should have left it and dedicated it to North Korea and the US, empty and ugly!


I don\'t see how two people managed to start bashing the US over something built in North Korea.

Darren Johnson

@Darren Johnson

Sadly I\'m never surprised anymore.

As the old saying goes \"When given half a chance ... \"

Michael Glazer

I think what they were pointing out is correct...if the Journalist who is American writing in an American publication is going to level nasty allegations toward another culture then they had better have their own house in order before doing so. I believe that's another old saying.


@dgate I think the article was quite mild mannered. I find it ironic to see people using freedom to defend one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. Mr. Stiffy in particular is amusing ( in a bitter pathetic sort of way) I happen to like reading Gizmag it is a nice break near the end of a day and I can\'t but help notice how prolific and monotonous his comments are. Bro come on lighten up. You can\'t blame America for North Korea\'s hotel folly. Hell, even Kimbo is a Fan of the NBA and 1000 hp cars using exotic materials for the exclusive use of the rich and powerful is not all bad, but if you feel that North Korea is morally superior to the US why don\'t you go over and express some opinions. I for one would look forward to the result.


I think this building looks great. I\'ve never been in the city and know close to nothing about its history, so I can only judge it for its aesthetic or sculptural values. I think pictures 5 and 7 proves it\'s stunning. Its sculptural values actually seem greater without glazing. The pattern of windows and stony seemingly eroded ancient looks give the impression of something from another planet, or a ruin from an Inca emperor gone mad. It does at least inspire my fantasy. With the finished exteriors, it looks maybe more sci-fi-ish, and like something any modern city would be proud of.

The stupidly self centred and childishly evil leaders of the later decades, still in power, probably made sure plenty of people suffered horribly to make this built. That suspicion does give a very bad taste. As a pure sculpture, I like it quite well, but given the chance, I\'d probably inflict unimaginable amounts of pain on Mr Il.

Stein Varjord

I guess it comes down to taste but I think that building is beautiful. If you want to see an ugly building check out the Dulux building in Clayton, Melbourne, Australia. Street view to 37°55\'27.06\" S 145°08\'33.24\" E. Swing around until you see the orange monstrosity, hold on to your stomach. Fortunately it is only 4 stories high.


I don\'t quite get the point of this hotel. That is a lot of rooms for a hotel in North Korea. Who visits there? The regime barely lets foreigners in the country and when they do they are escorted.

Facebook User

In a nutshell: We don\'t like North Korea, forget the hotel. :)


Hopefully they can get the right tenants in the building and actually make some money off this thing.

Geoffrey Grady
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