It's been called "The World's Worst Building" by Esquire magazine. Someone even had the unmitigated gall to liken it to Cinderella's Castle at Disney World. A surrealist video on YouTube even mimics the Walt Disney logo with the building's name scrawled across the front of it in that familiar Disney script font and Tinkerbell's half-circle arc over the building. The video is as engrossing as the building itself. At first glance, one can't help but stare at it. Its 75 degree angled walls are about as wrong as a building can be. Yet, there is something about the Ryugyong Hotel that keeps drawing me back.
Construction began on this behemoth in 1987. It was intended to be completed and open for business in time for the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students. By 1992, the building was still not finished, although it had reached its intended structural height of 1,083 feet. Construction was halted pending the security of additional funding. Or at least that's one version of the story. To date, none has been secured and considering the poor quality of the materials, it's unlikely that any will ever be found. An abandonded crane remains perched on the top of the hotel in a defiant pose as if to say, "I'm not coming down until the job is finished." I wouldn't want to be the company that owned that crane.
Before ground even broke on this project, the official maps of Pyongyang marked the location of the Ryugyong Hotel. The government even issued stamps commemorating the project. It was to be the first building to exceed 100 stories that was not built in the USA. The hotel boasted 3,000 rooms, seven rotating restaurants at the pinnicle and was intended to house several casinos. The DPRK government hoped that the hotel would draw massively large numbers of visitors to the capital city to support the cash-strapped nation. But alas, poor Yorik, the government only allows approximately 130,000 visitors per year into the DPRK and that's just not enough people to keep Ryugyong in business. Once construction on the Ryugyong stopped and it became grossly apparent that it would not resume, official city maps deleted the landmark and officially the Ryugyong ceased to exist.
But talk about your white elephant in the middle of the room.
Google Earth satellite photos of Pyongyang show the Ryugyong from several miles above the city. The three-winged pyramid is the tallest structure in the city and violates the city's skyline. There are no windows, fixtures, or other operational equipment. The facade is cold, gray concrete and that crane on top... well, let's leave the crane alone. Tour busses avoid going near it and the guides don't even make mention of the place. If the guide is asked, he or she will pollitely change the subject claiming to know nothing about it. But it can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city. It's there. You can see it. But don't ask about it. And don't try to photograph it. As best as can be determined from sources, all known photos of the Ryugyong were taken covertly.
But it is real and it does stand in the Potong District of Pyongyang. It stands as the world's largest monument to hubris. Perhaps it was intended to mimic the Pyramids of Giza -- a memorial to Kim Il-sung and his no-account offspring Kim Jong-il. The hotel is a symbol of what happens when absolute power corrupts absolutely. The notion that communism is somehow superior to capitalism is supposed to resonate within the walls of the Ryugyong. How ironic that only the wind resonates within its walls and its unfinished shell remains as a testament to the empty promise and ultimate failure of communism.
The bizarre architecture of the Ryugyong makes it difficult, if not impossible to not to be somehow attracted to it, but that is what makes it an even more effective symbol of communism, socialism and collectivism. Just by looking at it, you know that, on the surface it is just wrong on so many levels, but you can't help looking at it wanting to see and know more. As your attraction grows and you are drawn closer, its ugliness is hidden by your fascination. Its inherent instability is of no consequence as you step inside to look around at what was supposed to be an ultimate achievement of man. Your curiousity grows and you venture deeper for additional looks. You bring along your friends and they bring theirs. Soon there are too many explorers to support them and the whole structure collapses under its own weight as well as the weight of those who were looking for something and not quite sure what it was.
Maybe in the future there will be a way to complete the Ryugyong Hotel to the extravagant opulence to which it was intended...
...but I won't hold my breath.