The world's most ominous building?
December 5, 2002 4:50 AM   Subscribe

The 300m (984ft) Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea isn't a hotel - it's a metaphor. (pictures, comparative diagram)
posted by Pretty_Generic (52 comments total)
That must be the ugliest building I have ever seen in my life. Depressing.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 5:02 AM on December 5, 2002

No windows, no electricity . . . the DPRK writ "small", indeed.
posted by dazed_n_confused at 5:02 AM on December 5, 2002

i think we can announce a wtc winner folks........
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:08 AM on December 5, 2002

Sergeant - Marx would be so proud.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:09 AM on December 5, 2002

groucho or harpo ?

posted by sgt.serenity at 5:13 AM on December 5, 2002

A suprisingly compelling set of links. I had never even heard of this structure and find the story fascinating. It reminds me of the Devil's Tower/mashed potato thingy in Close Encounters.
posted by anathema at 5:23 AM on December 5, 2002

Official member of the concrete Axis of Godzilla Bowel Movements™
posted by hama7 at 5:34 AM on December 5, 2002

Does anyone know of a more ominous building, in an architectural sense?

Other odd Asian colossuses: robots in disguise, anyone?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:39 AM on December 5, 2002

Osaka's Umeda Sky Building In all of its undiluted glory.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:58 AM on December 5, 2002

Here's an outstanding write-up of a guy's trip to North Korea in 1998. It includes a telling paragraph about the Ryugyong:

As we drew near to the Metro station, we got a good look at the Ryugyong Hotel, another project of Kim Jong Il’s, a mammoth pyramidal 105-story hotel with seven revolving restaurants, which came into existence simply because a South Korean firm had started work on a hotel in Singapore with 103 floors. Skeptics said it couldn’t be built — and it wasn’t. Work on the hotel began in 1987, and it reached its present form about two years later. Construction ceased altogether in 1991, although the reason why has never been revealed. It’s not like the North Koreans decided they had enough hotels, otherwise they wouldn’t have built the Yanggakdo. The Ryugyong’s structure may be unsound (parts of it almost certainly are nowadays, after more than a decade’s exposure to the elements), but equipping this huge edifice with elevators, windows, and interior furnishings would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps proving the decisive factor in halting construction. Propaganda pictures nevertheless show the building lighted at night.
posted by dougb at 6:50 AM on December 5, 2002

“That’s a German train!” I blurted out. “Same kind as in Berlin!”

It was indeed a used East German GI model from the Berlin U-Bahn that had been sold to Pyongyang. But the guide gave me a very strange look. I had misspoken.

“On closer inspection, the design is very similar in appearance to the trains in Berlin,” I said. “But what would one of those be doing here? It’s obviously a Korean train.”

posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:54 AM on December 5, 2002

I'd never heard of it, but I think after completion it could have been quite nice. Sort of a Korean Pyramid really.

If lit up at night (even photshopped), it could provide some cool sights from all over the city.
posted by sebas at 7:00 AM on December 5, 2002

It's the Ministry of Love!

The Ministry of Truth -- Minitrue, in Newspeak -- was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. . .Scattered about London there were just three other buildings of similar appearance and size. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously. . .The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. Winston had never been inside the Ministry of Love, nor within half a kilometre of it. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine-gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons.

(Text found here.)
posted by Vidiot at 7:06 AM on December 5, 2002

Oh my God.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:08 AM on December 5, 2002

brutalism-alive and well!
posted by amberglow at 7:50 AM on December 5, 2002

The North Korean government is very security minded: maybe they could protect this building against Al-Qaeda style airplane attacks by acting as the first large institutional patron (they could approriate they money from their grain-for-starving-peasants program) of this neat new product: weaving a giant net of the new genetically-altered-goat produced spider silk which would, with strands about as thick as a human thumb, have the tensile strength and stretch to catch a boeing 757 in flight.....

But then I looked at the damn thing and thought why bother - one minor just goes to show: building design has gone to hell since the Pyramids. Nobody builds for posterity anymore.
posted by troutfishing at 7:58 AM on December 5, 2002

Sounds like something the Infiltration people should fly over and explore. A giant decaying hulk like that would be heaven for an urban explorer.

Something tells me they wouldn't take too kindly to finding you exploring there.
posted by zsazsa at 8:11 AM on December 5, 2002

building design has gone to hell since the Pyramids. Nobody builds for posterity anymore.

Isn't the building under a discussion a pyramid built for posterity?

I get your point, though.
posted by Vidiot at 8:30 AM on December 5, 2002

zsazsa - thats the first thought that crossed my mind when i saw the pic..

i'd really like to see the inside of this thing, or blueprints, or something. i can only assume that there would be multiple sets of stairs other fire escape type things, but where would you put them? staggered? one straight up the middle? both?

ooh, or maybe big slides! that'd be neat!

anyway, this thing would be hella fun to get lost in.
posted by onedarkride at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2002

This is the best photo I've found. Seven revolving restaurants, folks!

I still can't get over the 1984 thing. I'd like to think it was the architect's idea of a joke, but he'd have to be a brutalist comedian with a serious death-wish.

troutfishing - judging modern building design standards... judging modern anything based on the Democratic* People's* Republic of Korea* is a tad harsh. For instance, what about this giant dildo?

* not true
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:03 AM on December 5, 2002

anyway, this thing would be hella fun to get lost in.

Yeah, but I'm not sure I'd want to go exploring in a big decaying building made of Communist-quality concrete.

(P.J. O'Rourke once wrote something about how "Commies love concrete, but they have no idea how to make it." True.)
posted by Vidiot at 11:00 AM on December 5, 2002

But then I looked at the damn thing and thought why bother - one minor earthquake....

Actually, pyramid-shaped structures are the most stable in the event of an earthquake, even ones made of inferior Communist concrete.
posted by laz-e-boy at 11:24 AM on December 5, 2002

Foolish pyramidless westerners, with your so-called "San Francisco"!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2002

All your pyramids belong to Kim Jong Il*

*shit....I'm sorry
posted by thewittyname at 12:01 PM on December 5, 2002

But that's... grammatically correct...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:10 PM on December 5, 2002

vidiot, i think it'd be safe to say that one shouldn't jump around in an area like that. avoiding large cracks and holes is also fairly common sense. all that aside, i really don't think a few hundred pounds added to any point would cause any problems.

however, adding a few _thousand_ to the whole floor with foot traffic, furniture, and those neat little fake plastic plants could cause quite a bit more stress.

(I'm proud of you all. not one "this building.. it vibrates" yet, and no that doesn't count.)
posted by onedarkride at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2002

i'm bringing a sleeping bag and checking in to that hotel.
posted by dabitch at 1:14 PM on December 5, 2002

My own hometown, Winston-Salem, NC, boasts the Wachovia Building, and every time I drive by it, I wonder what in the world they were thinking. The "rosebud ready to bloom" explanation just doesn't cut it for me. I worked about a block away from it for 2 years (you can actually see the building I worked at in the background of this photo). Everyone I know refers to it as the "Phallus Palace" or other obvious nicknames.
posted by lovetragedy at 1:29 PM on December 5, 2002

Props: best thread in a while. And dougb's link to the North Korean travelogue a must-read, if you're into that sort of thing...
posted by costas at 2:32 PM on December 5, 2002

lovetragedy: You might have had a big pink courthouse like the one in St. Louis, or something like the Nebraska State Capitol.

Atop the 400-foot tower of Nebraska's State Capitol stands the figure of a man who is sowing the seeds of life to the winds...the Sower. This is not a subtle building. I don't think it vibrates, though.

Ditto on the Simon Bone account of North Korea--I thought it was fascinating.
posted by tss at 3:45 PM on December 5, 2002

To truly understand North Korea, if that is even possible, reading this website and it's links is a must.
posted by Baesen at 3:46 PM on December 5, 2002

It always amuses me a bit how folks think of the North Koreans as some alien species, so totally unlike the rest of us, including the South Koreans.

Trust me folks, once you get to know South Korea, you can easily understand how fucked up NK has become.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:04 PM on December 5, 2002

These Koreans, eh? All the same. Murderous bastards. Why if I had a Korean here now... oh look, a penny!...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:13 PM on December 5, 2002

It looks like it belongs in Las Vegas. With some flashing lights and obligatory water fountain it would fit right in.
posted by cmacleod at 5:32 PM on December 5, 2002

Trust me folks, once you get to know South Korea, you can easily understand how fucked up NK has become.

Never a truer word was spoke..... Hang on, where did that 400 billion won go?
posted by hama7 at 7:28 PM on December 5, 2002

Trust me folks, once you get to know South Korea, you can easily understand how fucked up NK has become.

Never has a load of more bullshit been spoken.

Until you have walked the DMZ or spent some serious time speaking with North Korea refugees; until you have dissected the depravities visited up the entire nation of Korea by the Japanese and the horrors that entailed; until you have spoken with Koreans who were former slaves under Japan; until you have studied the released documents from Russia on the separation of the country and the documents in the US during that period can even come close to understanding North Korea.

Everything else is pure bullshit.
posted by Baesen at 8:55 PM on December 5, 2002

Baesen, I've lived in South Korea for five of the last eight years. I am aware and educated in all the things you're talking about, and have done the things you so self-righteously suggest are essential to do before forming an opinion, too.

I gather by your profile and nick that you're either Korean or an expat in Korea, so perhaps you're willing to do more than posture indignantly and call my opinions 'bullshit'. Either way, though, I'll thank you to back the fuck off and tone it down a notch. I love Korea, but it's deeply and perhaps irredeemably fucked up, in part for some of the reasons you hint at, no doubt.

My point stands.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:02 PM on December 5, 2002

Your point does not stand.

North Korea and South Korea are completely different countries that share a common tongue. To say that understanding South Korea is to understand the North is pure bullshit. These two countries barely understand each other, hell, look at how fucked up the "sunshine policy" has become. Now you have 2 idiots trying to be elected there, neither of them knowing how in the hell to deal with the North and both spouting drivel. You have human rights groups in South Korea calling for the asinine "one country, two systems" form of integration. The examples go on and on.

South Korea hasn't been able to deal with North Korea since the major shooting stopped. Why? Because they have become completely different peoples and cultures who only commonality is a history whose teachings have been completely corrupted and twisted to the point of ridiculousness by the megalomaniacs that have run the North. The biggest problem is the we hilariously actually think we understand them.

Myself, my father was a Korean diplomat and I spent 3 long fucking years walking that DMZ, working with US soldiers and helping debrief North Korean refugees. My aunt, a beautiful woman, was one of those slaves during the war. My college education focused on the Japanese colonial period. Other than that, I've spent time all over Asia, Europe currently the US and soon, back home to Korea.

I understand how fucked up my own country. No way to ignore that. But your comment is fucked. It has no basis in the reality that is Korea.

Also, living in Korea for 5 of the last 8 years does not a Korean make nor understanding of Korea or Koreans make. If you weren't so self-righteously stuck on your own feeble understanding of the country you'd realize that. Hell, I've got American friends, scholars, diplomats, etc., who have spent 20+ years in Korea and they don't claim to have the understanding that you seem to think you have. Its like me saying my living in the US gives me some sort of insight into Canada to where I can boastfully claim to understand why Canadians are such fuckwits. (Note: That is a crude example and any insult to Canadians was unintentional.)

Your point fails.
posted by Baesen at 9:25 PM on December 5, 2002 I the only one who kinda likes the building? It just looks so imperiously detached, so deliciously screams "Fuck Everything!"...yup, pound for pound, it's the meanest heap of concrete I've ever's a deconstruction, a shard, a dagger, a nightmare obelisk...well, anyway, I like it.
posted by Opus Dark at 9:39 PM on December 5, 2002

No, Baesan, my predictably hotheaded friend, my point does not fail.

Thanks for your life story, though.

Your protestations that a people who at any other juncture are lightning fast to leap up and claim millennia of rich cultural history that defines them and underpins their every brainfart are after 50 years of division now "two competely different peoples and cultures" is soft-headed nonsense.

My comment - which was fucked, lest we forget in all the hullabaloo - merely implied that a knowledge and even surface understanding of the Korean nature (of which, I hasten once more to point out again, Koreans tend to be inordinately proud in any other situation) can give one some insight into the nightmare that is the North.

Let's review, shall we? I said "once you get to know South Korea, you can easily understand how fucked up NK has become."

I'm not sure what you're reading in to this comment, Baesan, but it's clearly a lot more than I meant. It was in my mind at least partially a reference to remarks I made in passing back in January. Hell, as I wrote it, I was remembering this Korea Herald Op-Ed a few days ago [login:pointless1 pass:nopass] from Cho Se-hyon, one of Korea's more cogent commentators in English (and one of the few that seem to have any command of the language, as well) a couple of days ago in the Korea Herald :

"Let's face it; we Koreans are a pretty emotional people. We are also very gullible. Our opinions and views sway, like reeds in the wind, at the slightest provocation or change. Thus, we become easy prey to propaganda or fraud.

Some of us got pretty upset, I remember, when Gen. Wickham, former commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea, characterized us as having what he called a "lemming mentality;" he said we were too easily persuaded by others and always ready to hop on a bandwagon. I think that observation was accurate to a large extent. "

Even if my comment went as far as that, which I don't think it did, I don't think you could really find much to argue with if you were actually paying attention to what was said rather what wanted to hear.

Or, judging by the way you come out swinging, maybe you would.

I don't claim to have a deeper understanding of Korea (nor in a million years would I claim 'be Korean') - certainly not to the degree of your distinguished 'American friends, scholars, diplomats, etc., who have spent 20+ years in Korea', nor have I done so here, ever. Why you would would claim my understanding to be 'feeble', based on my (admittedly inflammatory) sally, though...well, that's just you being unpleasant, I guess.

For someone who claims to have studied Korean history, you certainly seem to lean heavily in the direction of gross generalization. But, once again, that's kind of predictable. Koreans are marvellous people in many ways, and utter boneheads in others. This is something that can be said of pretty much any nation or ethnicity, I note in passing. Korea, as you keep reminding us, and anyone with even a passing interest in history knows, has suffered indignities beyond those that most other countries and peoples have been forced to endure. But the kind of attitudes I see here every day, and you display in this thread, just go further towards convincing me that the worst is not yet over, and lessons have gone unlearned, just as they have in so many other places.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:36 PM on December 5, 2002

[Er, whoops. Apologies for the length, as usual.]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:44 PM on December 5, 2002

And this reminded me of this
posted by dydecker at 10:50 PM on December 5, 2002

Nice links, dydecker. Can you even fathom actually being in a throng of humanity like your first link? It's utterly mind boggling.

I wasn't trying to fan any flames with my comment above, I was just kidding about the fact that 400 billion won is more than enough to build a giant cement piece of crap, and which does indeed not cast South Korea's actions in a particularly favorable light.

(Plus, you attract more flies with honey, as the saying goes, and Stavros is a markedly good fella, as I'm sure you are too, Baesen.)
posted by hama7 at 11:29 PM on December 5, 2002

I haven't been in North or South Korea. I am however greatly interested in dictatorships of various kinds and as a result in North Korea.
Reading about N.K. always makes me remember the USSR. The same type of government instilled brainwashing, fear, forced equality, show-off cities off limits to most of the country citizens, idolation of the leaders, etc. - except even more paranoid and brutal.
And this brings me to agree with Baesen - Koreans (South and North) have lots and lots in terms of a common historical heritage but they are doubtlessly two radically different people today, for the oppressive nature of a regime plays a much stronger role in defining the mentality of the people than any history that they might have shared even a couple of generations ago. There are plenty of observations of the North Korean life, unfortunately mostly in Korean or Russian only.
If you've ever talked to Cubans (not the Miami ones), you'd discover that they resemble, in their mentality, Russians more than say Mexicans. It's sad, and unnatural, and hopefully will dissipate, both in Cuban and much more so in the N. Korean case, but this will take a couple of generations after the commies and people who have been unlucky enough to be raised during their rule die off. Till then sadly, North and South Koreas will remain places worlds apart.
posted by bokononito at 11:36 PM on December 5, 2002

bokononito - I'm think to a degree you're right, and as far as that goes, so is Baesen : it doesn't take long to utterly warp the collective mind of a people. I've been reading Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon the last few days, and that's a wrenching and evocative portrayal of just how it can happen.

I didn't really mean to imply otherwise in my original comment, and although I did take Baesen to task later for the same thing you're saying above, that was in part because he (she?) pissed me off. At risk of being called worse than I already have, though, I think that both the good and the bad in human (and in this specific case Korean) nature run deeper than even 50 (or 100) years of oppression and madness can change.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:55 AM on December 6, 2002

i'm reading this and thinking - it might sound exaggerated and unreal, but from all the other (not nearly as involved) accounts (Russian, Chinese) I've read this sounds like true.
In the final 3 years of WWII, the Americans were accused (justly so I believe) of not bombing or at least making the photographs of the German concentration camps (which they took) available to the public. Which brings me to - how come there is no (dis)proof of all these North Korean horrors by any of the satellite photography? Has there been any movement in South Korea to initiate such series of documenting the North Korean Gulag, from the outer space? Lots can be seen with the resolution satellite spy cameras afford these days.
posted by bokononito at 1:26 AM on December 6, 2002

Lots can be seen with the resolution satellite spy cameras afford these days.

Good point, but if you consider that the population of the entire country is held hostage, then the whole shmeal is a bit like a gulag, although if one can create this satellite view of Seoul, it would stand to reason that the same could be possible in North Korea, and most certainly is, but just not to us. At least not yet.
posted by hama7 at 2:34 AM on December 6, 2002


I can see that we still have points of disagreement, but will refrain from commenting here as I have let my emotions get the better of me in my argument and I read far too much into your comments.

Cheers and have a nice day --

If you are still in Korea when I return maybe we can hoist one in a Norae-bang and you can laugh at my atrocious singing as an apology to my rudeness.
posted by Baesen at 7:17 AM on December 6, 2002

Those South Korean football (soccer) fans eh? Fucking crazy!
posted by niceness at 8:02 AM on December 6, 2002

It's because we're all just a bunch of sheep...bah bah bah bah bah...
posted by Baesen at 8:17 AM on December 6, 2002

Invitation most gratefully accepted, Baesen. But let's leave out the norae-bang, OK? They are the bane of my existence....:-)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 PM on December 6, 2002

My threads: bringing people together.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:26 PM on December 6, 2002

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