North Korea’s famous pyramid-shaped hotel has been renovated, despite never having welcomed a single guest.
The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel – the world’s tallest unoccupied building – in the capital Pyongyang, has been spruced up and awarded two new walkways and a brand new sign boasting about North Korea‘s latest nuclear missile launches.
The renovations may be a sign that dictator Kim Jong-Un could be about to finish the project started by his grandfather in 1987, branded ‘the Hotel of Doom’.
Finally opening? Walls set up to keep people out of a construction area around the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, were pulled down to reveal renovations and two new walkways, indicating that the hotel may finally be set to open
The hotel has never opened, and decades of delays has been plagued by rumours that the building may not even be structurally sound.
If nothing else, it at least has a new propaganda sign: ‘Rocket Power Nation.’
The walls around the hotel came down on as the North marked the anniversary of the Korean War armistice.
The day after Thursday’s anniversary, North Korea test-launched its latest intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts believe demonstrated that the state’s weapons can now theoretically reach most of the United States.
Landmark: The building of the Ryugyong Hotel began in 1987, but despite 30 years of construction, the hotel has yet to welcome a single guest
‘Rocket Power Nation’: When the walls came down on Thursday, they revealed two broad new walkways leading to the building and the big red propaganda sign declaring that North Korea is a leading rocket power
For more than a week leading up to the anniversary, a major holiday in North Korea, ‘soldier-builders’ at the site in central Pyongyang were clearly visible behind the walls, along with heavy equipment for digging and brightly colored propaganda billboards that are a staple at North Korean construction sites, intended to boost morale.
Rumors, almost always unfounded, of plans to once and for all finish the hotel project are something of a parlor game among Pyongyang watchers. And it remains to be seen if the current work on the Ryugyong is intended to be a step toward actually finishing the long-stalled project or, more likely, an effort to make better use of the land around it.
But it’s not surprising that work to do something with the idle landmark would begin. Pyongyang has been undergoing massive redevelopment since Kim assumed power when his father died in late 2011.
At Kim’s orders, several major high-rise areas have been completed, including one with a 70-story residence and dozens of other tall buildings in the capital’s ‘Ryomyong,’ or ‘dawn,’ district in April. Pyongyang also has a new international airport, a massive sci-tech complex with a main building shaped like a giant atom, and many other recreational and educational facilities.
Long time coming: A woman walks past the site of the Ryugyong Hotel in 1990, the sign in red reads ‘Let’s all together struggle heroically!’
Danger: The day after the walls around the hotel came down, North Korea test-launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts believe demonstrated that the North’s weapons can now theoretically reach most of the United States
How Kim can afford to pay for the apparent construction boom and his significantly accelerated testing of multimillion-dollar missiles is a mystery, but has led many sanctions advocates to point the finger at China, by far North Korea’s biggest trading partner, for not doing enough to turn the economic screws on its neighbor.
From a distance, the glassy, greenish-blue Ryugyong looks like it’s ready for business. But it is believed to be far from complete inside and possibly even structurally unsound.
Work on the building started in 1987 while Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and ‘eternal president,’ was still alive. It was supposed to open in 1989 and would have been the world’s tallest hotel – surpassing another in Singapore that was built by a South Korean company.
But a severe economic crash and famines in the 1990s left North Korea in no position to pump funds into the hotel’s construction, and it stayed little more than an embarrassing concrete shell for well over a decade before Egypt’s Orascom Group – which was also key in establishing the North’s cellphone system – helped pay for work to complete the building’s shiny exterior in 2011.
Questions remain about whether it is structurally sound enough to ever operate as a hotel or office building.
Officials have offered no information regarding their plans for its future.