A giant among giants, the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel bestrides the city like a
colossus. At 323 meters, it stands as tall as the Eiffel Tower and ranks among
the 20 tallest buildings in the world. The finished hotel is to contain 3,000
rooms and to be topped by three revolving restaurants with a view all the way
to the west coast.
However, no one knows if the Ryugyong will ever be completed. It was intended
to open in June 1989 for the World Festival of Youth and Students. But only
the shell of the building was finished when construction was halted. Foreign
accounts blame the work stoppage on crooked elevator shafts, cracking concrete
or simply a lack of funds. To this day, the building sits empty.
With its monumental scale and turret-like projections, the Ryugyong faintly
echoes Moscow's Stalinist skyscrapers. And its pyramid silhouette speaks to
the regime's pharaonic ambitions. Such grandiosity is nothing new. What astonishes
is the building's intended function. A hotel, in a country that straitjackets
all travel? Why would this hyper-isolationist regime construct its biggest building
for foreign visitors?
Oneupmanship was a key motive. A South Korean firm had just finished construction
of what was then the world's tallest hotel, the Stamford in Singapore. The same
regime that claims to "envy nothing in the world" wanted to steal
the South Koreans' thunder.
© Eckart Dege