As buildings go, the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea is pretty impressive – it stands at a mighty 1080ft and its 105 storeys dominate the city’s skyline. Yet even though the pyramid-shaped hotel is North Korea’s tallest building, it’s never hosted a single guest.
So just what did go wrong with the Ryugyong? And why has construction never been completed since its inception in 1987?
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea was plunged into an economic crisis, as it had depended on the Bloc for trade – and work on the Ryugyong Hotel was halted. Since then, progress has been sporadic, though in 2008, an Egyptian company restarted construction on the hotel.
Although the hotel has never hosted any guests, the building itself has still been put to some use – currently it hosts a nightly propaganda light show which projects political slogans and symbols onto 100,000 LCD screens on its surface.
Political propaganda and the Ryugyong apparently go hand in hand, as the building frequently features as a background for arts troupes and artists who incorporate political messages into their performances. It’s also been used as a centrepiece for celebrations, like the spectacular Mayday fireworks that wreathed the entire building.
You might be forgiven for wondering why North Korea even needed a hotel, considering their famous aversion to visitors, but though Ryugyong has never admitted any guests, there are actually open hotels in the capital Pyongyang.
When the Ryugyong Hotel was originally conceived, plans were awe-inspiring, at the apex where three, 328 ft sections join together and a truncated 40 metre cone sits atop, there were supposed to be eight storeys featuring revolving restaurants.
For years though, the hotel was nothing more than a mere concrete shell, which didn’t even have any windows until 2011 – and to this day the building still has no electricity. It was originally due to open in 1992, to mark Kim II Sung’s 80th birthday, and if it had opened on schedule, back then it would have taken the title of the world’s tallest hotel. Another grand opening ceremony to mark the centenary of Kim II Sung’s birth was planned for 2012, but it was postponed, and to date, the hotel has still never opened its doors.
At one time, the Ryugyong Hotel was thought to be the tallest unoccupied building in the whole world, but that title was swiped by the similarly still unfinished Goldin Finance 177, in Tianjin, China.
As for the name, Ryugyong, it means capital of willows, which is one of the historical names for Pyongyang. The hotel’s awe-inspiring pyramid structure dominates the capital, so this ancient association seems appropriate, as the building has become synonymous with the city itself.
It’s no wonder construction on the Ryugyong hotel is taking so long though – to finish off the project it would take 5% of North Korea’s annual GDP, as the country only produces $40 billion a year!
Even when it does open, given the country’s authoritarian approach, we’re not sure we’ll be booking a room, though we still hope they get around to completing construction, as it does seem a waste for such a majestic building to sit totally unoccupied.