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The world’s daftest skyscraper

Some are real trainspotters, and seek them out in all their literal dullness. I am a virtual skyscraperspotter, and surf the net looking for photos and descriptions. And I have just discovered a new one, the amazing Ryugyong Hotel, in Pyongyang, North Korea. When I say “new”, all I mean is I’ve only just heard about it. The thing has been in existence for well over a decade. I only encountered it because it is on the left here. Good grief, what the upper case top row of my keyboard is that? – I expostulated.

I have my answer. Says Wikipedia:

The Ryugyong Hotel is a towering, 105-story, 1,083 foot empty concrete shell in Pyongyang, North Korea. If the building ever was completed it would be considered the world’s largest hotel, and one of the tallest buildings in the world. Today however, the building remains uninhabited and unfinished.

The North Koreans began constructing the pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel in 1987, reportedly aiming for 105 stories to beat out a structure the South Koreans were building in Singapore. The building was to contain 3,000 rooms and 7 revolving restaurants. The estimated cost of building it ran upwards of $750 million, which is 2% of North Korea’s GDP. It’s generally assumed construction came to a halt in 1991 because North Korea was suffering from famine, acute electricity shortages, and lack of necessary funding. The basic structure is complete, but no windows, fixtures or fittings have been installed. According to http://www.skyscrapers.com, the concrete used in building the Ryugyong Hotel is of unsuitable quality and therefore is unsafe – it cannot therefore be completed as currently built. With annual tourism numbering less than a hundred, some question the logic of building such a massive hotel. Pyongyang’s few existing hotels remain to this day, virtually empty. The 3.9-million-square-foot concrete structure continues to dominate Pyongyang’s skyline.

In other words, this building is going to supply the world with the second most dramatic demolition video ever (I am afraid it will not be the winner), and nothing else. I love that bit about how “some question the logic” of this ludicrous structure. In general, anti-collectivist propaganda does not come any more damning, and is all the more damning here because it is done so delicately. “Some question the logic …” in a country “suffering” (like it just happened to turn out that way) from “famine, acute electricity shortages, and lack of necessary funding”. Yeah, I had heard about that.

I was going to put that this makes our little Dome look like very small potatoes, public-spending-wise. But actually our Dome seems to have wasted about three times as much as the Ryugyong Hotel. (Hah!! You call that wasting public money?) The difference is that we could afford our Dome without very much mass starvation, and even now our electricity supplies are hardly ever interrupted.

Until just now, as I say, I had no idea about this ridiculous edifice, no idea at all. I guess they are not that eager to advertise it, what with it being made of cheese and having no windows and being unliveable in and liable to collapse at any moment.

The sooner President Bush finds a way of shutting down this evil joke of a country and merging it into the sensible one to the south of it, the better.

26 comments to The world’s daftest skyscraper

  • BigFire

    Hum, your list of tall building is somewhat outdated. It does not include the recently open Taipei 101 building.

  • Russell

    When I was in Pyongyang my hosts treated the hotel skeleton of the Ryugyong Hotel as a blind-spot – they would not talk about it and seemed unable to see it when I tried pointing it out.

    Contrary to the media reports, there does seem to be as least some tourism to Pyongyang. There were several busloads of Russians and even South Koreans staying at the Hotel Koryo when I was there (an elaborate goodbye was staged for three busloads of South Koreans one morning). There were also some German speaking European backpackers at the National War Museum (only about 10 of them).

    At the national circus performance I went to there were six busloads of foreigners in attendance. My minder was quite miffed, noting that the circus should be for the Koreans. The hand-painted sign of the front of one bus said “Singapore” and they could have been chinese-malay.

    I personally saw more than a hundred tourists and I was only there for a week (and didn’t get around much).

  • Brian Micklethwait


    I do know about Taipei 101, in fact I did a posting about it (with a picture) on my Culture Blog on January 2nd. Very smelly toilets apparently. That no doubt correctable blemish aside, I like it, I think.

    I was just explaining how I came across this North Korean thing. Maybe the very out-of-dateness of the place I found it is what caused it still to be there.

  • Smelly toilets in a scyscraper may be very difficult to fix. Plumbing is one of the most problematic aspects of skyscraper design. Consider that if you have a straight run of pipe 1000 ft. tall, the pressure at the bottom is the same as you would encounter 1000 ft. under the ocean. That was crush depth for early submarines.

  • Hi Brian,

    I too am a skyscraper spotter. I also spot towers (different classification from buildings, as I’m sure you know). I have an unhealthy fixation with tall buildings. Living in Dubai, we have three on the list and the proposed Burj Dubai will be the tallest in the world – even taller than the ones going up in Shanghai and Tapei.

    I also spend a lot of time in Kuwait, where there is a telecommunications tower which is one of the world’s talles. Apparently.



  • The Ryugyong Hotel looks like a giant warhead.


  • Might I suggest that the sentence “National Audit Office experts investigating 128 Dome contracts found that the paperwork was missing, making it impossible to find out whether taxpayers got value for money” in the article you link to about the Dome is almost as funny as the one about “some question the logic….”

  • Jacob

    Enormous dissaters, financial and otherwise, are abundant in any communist regime, but they don’t stand tall and visible like this tower. Thanks to it’s shape and visibility it can be adopted as a fit symbol of communist grandiose stupitidy.

    All leaders love grandiose and stupid projects. Most of them build just palaces, but one (Joscelino Kubichek in Brazil) built a whole 1 million inhabitant capital city in the middle of nowhere (Brazilia).
    Others build Pompidou Centers, Opera houses or just glass pyramids at the Louvre.

    That millenium dome should perhaps be renamed The Tony Dome.

    Meanwhile, in the US, since building palaces is out of fashion, they announce new space innitiatives instead.

  • Jacob

    There is the old story about the difference between an architect and a doctor: the doctor’s mistakes are burried, but the architect’s remain prominently visible.

  • John

    Allowing for differences between commercial and hotel uses and presuming different design methods,
    (not to mention the potential for error on the webpage showing these buildings and your excerpt from Wikpedia), I still wonder how the NK’s fit all those floors into a 300 meter height. Might there be a secondary reason for not finishing it?

  • R. C. Dean

    That will look so cool coming down.

    I hope they have enough sense to implode it and sell the broadcast rights, or maybe even do a deal with Hollywood to work the implosion into a movie.

  • One of the more curious sights of visiting Cape Town in South Africa is to see not used sections of elevated motorway that go through various parts of the city. They are not connected to anything, and you find that they go for half a mile or so, then stop in mid air, and then resume again a quarter of a mile later. A friend told me that there had been a plan to build them in the 1970s, and that after construction had started they discovered that the engineering methods were structurally unsound and abandoned the whole project. But they had no money to pull them down, so these non-operating sections of motorway go through the city to this day. I do not know if this story is completely true (perhaps they just ran out of money half way through building the project) but they are an absolutely bizarre thing to see. (I have just attempted to Google for the whole story, but I cannot find anything. It seems that natives of Cape Town may be unable to see them in the way that the North Korean minders are unable to see the Ryugyong Hotel and this extends to writing about them on the internet.

    I cannot imagine any American city allowing a disaster like this to remain so visible for decades. They would be too embarrassed and would pull it down even if it sent the city bankrupt.

  • John Swartz

    I think visibility has a lot to do with it… at risk of embarrassing my hometown even more than it deserves, I direct your attention to the Cincinnati subway system.

    Since subways are more subtle much of it still exists. Interestingly, though parts of it are very noticeable, many Cincinnatians are entirely unaware of its existence. They’re not refusing to see it, they just don’t see it…

  • Jacob, the code for adding links can be found below where you enter your comments.

  • The sooner President Bush finds a way of shutting down this evil joke of a country and merging it into the sensible one to the south of it, the better.

    You mean of course, “evil, war-mongering, unilateralist, stupid cowboy” Bush? That one?

    Pass. Let the French, Germans and Russians deal with it. We’re kinda busy right now looting Iraq of all its oil, don’tcha know?

  • luisalegria

    Mr. Jennings,

    As for unfinished motorways a la Cape Town, San Francisco had those along the Embarcadero for decades. They were built in the late 60’s and torn down about 7-8 years ago.

    Construction was stopped due to anti-growth pressure and Nimby’s further along the route to the Golden Gate bridge.

  • Would the South Koreans even want the hassle of reintegrating the impoverished North into their own affluent economy?

    It’ll be like Germany, but many, many times worse.

    The Wobbly Guy

  • 7 revolving restraurants!!! The gyroscopic effects alone would be enough to tilt the Earth’s Axis!

  • John Nowak

    I say make the Pyonyang tower stand in for the Ministries in a new filmes version of 1984. It’d be perfect.

  • Joe

    Trircale: Plumbing is the simplest technology in a building. There is no reason for problems with it, even in a skyscraper. Any MPE (building) engineering firm will typically have 1 plumbing engineer for each 20 of the rest (mechanical, electrical, AV/telcom).
    Most engineers feel that a trained chimpanzee could do the plumbing drawings.

  • Some more shots and angles of this megalith are here, some of them showing skyline context.

    CULWULLA makes scale models of skyscrapers. Check out the Y-shape and sheer bulk of the hotel.

    I heard somewhere, though I can’t confirm this with a link, that the North Koreans have decided to make the best of an embarassing situation and install anti-aircraft defences in the spires.

  • Hank Cadra

    Speaking of impossible-to-miss abandoned structures in the U.S., consider the history of the following building that sits literally two hundred yards to the left of the beautiful State Capitol building right in downtown Providence, R.I.:


    The following is the only link I could find with a picture…


    …but I can tell you the following two things:

    1) the building looks nowhere near as clean in person — grimy, with some holes in it, and graffiti and/or boards covering other parts.

    2) More awe-inspiring is the fact that it is just a big, squat, dark brown brick that sits there impassively, demanding inquiry as to what the hell it *is*, and what the hell it is *doing* there. Sure, it’s only seven stories tall, but it sits on a sharp rise of a hill, emphasizing its presence, and with the clean, white, domed Capitol sitting immediately to its right, the contrast is shocking.

    I went down there once with the wife to grab a bite to eat (plenty of great, affordable places to dine and drink in Providence) and spied it from about a quarter mile away, never having seen it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and much to la mujer’s chagrin, insisted on walking over and checking it out. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of it. It’s just surprising to see something like that right in the middle of a city. It’s more surprising to know that it’s been sitting there like that for seventy-four years.

  • jim

    re: capetown highways to nowhere. Irving, TX right outside Dallas-Forth Worth airport has the same thing only a monorail that was supposed to circulate around a bunch of new office buildings.

  • Orright, I’ll ask- what would be the best demolition video if not this one?

  • Sean

    Staghounds – I’m guessing the WTC?

  • Old European

    It is not George Bush’s or the US Administration’s remit to take care of a possible reunification of North Korea with South Korea. Leave this to the involved countries themselves, or to the United Nations. The US administration has already contributed to too much trouble since the 1960s and should take care of problems occurring on the US territory first.