When a country is cut off from the outside world for nearly 70 years, the architecture gets pretty weird, fast. Take North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. The libraries look like palaces. The metro stations have chandeliers and marble columns. Landmark buildings, the grand plans of dictators past, sit empty.
Chances are you’ll never be able to take in this eerily beautiful city yourself: like pretty much everything else in North Korea, tourism is tightly controlled by the communist government. But a new publication, the ‘Pyongyang Architecture Map’, can help out.
In this whistlestop guide to the city’s most bewildering modern buildings, architecture critic and photographer Oliver Wainwright aims to show how the country’s increasingly isolationist trajectory – under three different leaders since the end of the Korean War – has shaped its architecture.
From Kim Il-sung, you get socialist realism. From Kim Jong-il, expressive modernism. And current ruler Kim Jong-un? His stuff, writes the author, is straight out of a ‘socialist fairyland’. In this ‘highly theatrical, stage-like city’, you’ll find anything from a retro swimming pool complete with a glass elevator to a set of towering, hammer-and-sickle-clenching fists. Here are ten of the most striking landmarks and buildings featured in the publication.
Photographs and descriptions by Oliver Wainwright, from ‘Pyongyang Architecture Map’, published by Blue Crow Media.