North Korea or DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a place that is shrouded in mystery. The Hermit Kingdom has offered limited access to the outside world, leading to theories and conjecture about how the nation operates and what daily life is like for its citizens. But one thing that isn’t up for debate is the interesting architectural styles depicted in various buildings across the nation.
The Ryugyong Hotel is probably best known as an architectural feat that may never welcome guests. The imposing structure sits like a black eye on the Hermit Kingdom not only because of its ominous nickname—Hotel of Doom—but also because it never opened. The Ryugyong Hotel was first conceptualized by the nation’s first president Kim Il-Sung. Hotel construction began in 1987 and was meant to stand as the tallest hotel in the world. Unfortunately, the nation’s constant financial woes made funding the project difficult.
The original financial backer was the USSR. But when they collapsed in 1991, North Korea found itself in an economic depression, and construction ended with only the exterior completed. The constant delays and problems caused locals to dub the Ryugyong Hotel as the Hotel of Doom. In 2008, developers from Egypt offered to finish construction. And then the Kempinski hotel group drafted plans to manage the hotel with a proposed 2013 launch date. However, the plans faced delays, and to this day, the imposing hotel remains closed and unfinished.
May Day Stadium
Imagine a stadium that could hold 150,000 excited fans. You don’t have to imagine it because it already exists in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. The event space is officially the largest stadium in the world, and unlike the Ryugyong Hotel, it’s regularly used. Most notably, the stadium serves as the backdrop for the Mass Games, an annual dance, gymnastics, and music performance event with as many as 10,000 participants. However, the space is commonly used for football matches, pay-per-view wrestling events and other recreational activities.
The May Day Stadium officially opened its doors in 1989 on May 1, also known as May Day or International Worker’s Day. Aside from the impressive capacity, the stadium’s architecture is what makes it so iconic. It’s designed to resemble a flower or an opened parachute from a bird’s-eye view. The stadium features eight levels and is said to have as many as 1,300 rooms that include locker rooms, offices, storage and training facilities.
North Korea has always been focused on improving its influence on the international scene. Whether or not this goal has been successful is debatable, but that’s not for lack of trying. Under the current leader, Kim Jong-Un, the nation has prioritized building up its resources for scientific exploration. Occupying about 347,000 square feet, the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang was opened in 2016 and is shaped like an atom.
International coverage of the site tends to focus on how money was redirected from critical initiatives meant to support the nation’s impoverished citizens to build an impressive structure. But the actual North Korean tourism platform Explore DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), showers praise on the active science center as a beacon of opportunity and advancement — a bastion of knowledge from past and present works created in Korea. Best of all, the complex’s scientific database is open to everyone, including non-North Korean citizens — thanks to its accompanying website. And yes, it’s accessible in English. We checked.
Cover image credit: Matt Perry / iStock