A forthcoming Architectural Guide to Pyongyang, by Berlin-based architect Philipp Meuser (DOM Publishers), offers a rare and fascinating glimpse at the buildings – and cultural politics – of North Korea.

The guide is divided into two parts, offering both a conventional catalogue of the city’s buildings (though with the proviso that the publisher does not recommend taking possibly classified information on any planned tour of Pyongyang), and several parallel texts examining its urban and architectural history. Especially enlightening in that respect is an essay on the relationship between architecture and ideology by the late supreme leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-il, first published in 1991.

Pyongyang, a city of around 3 million, is ‘a cabinet of architectural curiosities that defies comparison’, says Meuser, ‘the image of a utopian ideology, the materialization of a sociological experiment that remains preserved to this day as the relic of a bygone era.’

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

Abandoned construction site of the Ryugyong Hotel from the south-east, photographed in 2005. The Orascom Group, an Egyptian telecommunications and construction company, subsequently recommenced work on the blue glass facades conical metal ‘cap’, which are now complete. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

The head of Kwangbok Street is marked by cylindrical residential towers and wave-shaped housing slabs that are closer to the spirit of Le Corbusier than to Korean traditions. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers

View from the Grand People’s Study House across Kim Il-sung Square to Department Store No. 1 and the Juche Tower on the opposite bank of the river. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

Thongil residential area (1993) Thongil Street extends from Rangnang Bridge to the central district of Rangnang. Vast residential blocks of ten, 18, and 40 storeys, each containing several hundred housing units, are situated on the street. Between them, 30-storey terraced buildings were placed at regular intervals to add rhythm and variety while leaving sufficient open space between the blocks. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

The Mansudae Assembly Hall (1984) is mainly used by the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea but also hosts conferences, diplomatic events, and press conferences. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers

Auditorium of the Pyongyang Grand Theatre (1960, modernized 2009). Situated at the junction of Sungri Street and Yonggwang Street, the Korean-style building can seat up to 2,200 people, while the stage can accommodate up to 700 performers at once. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

Pyongyang Circus (1989). Situated in the Kwangbok residential
area that is part of the Mangyongdae district, the home of the North Korean State Circus has five halls with typical hexagonal roofs covering a gross floor area of 70,000 square metres. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace (1989). Situated on the Heroic Youth Motorway on the periphery of Kwangbok residential area, this six-storey building contains more than 650 rooms in which up to 5,400 children can pursue all sorts of activities. Photo: Meuser/Dom Publishers.

Ice Rink (1981). The concrete structure provides a striking landmark on Chollima Street. Four tiers offer space for 6,000 spectators. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

Korean Revolution Museum, 1972. Photo: Meuser/Dom Publishers.

View past the Juche tower across Kim Il Sung Square to the green-roofed Grand People’s Study House. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

Pyongyang Koryo Hotel (1985), Changgwang Street. This luxury hotel consists of two 45-storey, 143-metre towers and is the second-tallest hotel building in the DPRK. The building, which is 143 metres tall, can accommodate up to 1,000 guests in its 504 rooms. The hotel has four res-
taurants and a revolving restaurant on the top floor. Photo: Meuser/DOM Publishers.

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