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.