This Abandoned North Korean Hotel is the Country’s Tallest Building – and it’s been Empty Since the ’80s

Photo by Roman Harak via Wikimedia Commons

The Ryugyong Hotel is a pyramid-shaped skyscraper in Pyongyang, North Korea, that has been under construction for over three decades. At 1,080 feet, it’s the tallest unoccupied building in the world, the tallest building in North Korea, and one of the most notorious examples of a failed architectural project – having never once hosted a single guest.

Frequently referred to as the “Hotel of Doom,” the Ryugyong Hotel was conceived in the late 1980s as a symbol of North Korea’s ambition and rivalry with South Korea, which was hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics and had built the world’s tallest hotel in Singapore. The Ryugyong Hotel was designed to have 105 floors, 3,000 rooms, and five revolving restaurants, and to be completed by 1989 for the World Festival of Youth and Students, a socialist event held in Pyongyang.

However, the construction faced numerous technical and financial difficulties, and was halted in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been North Korea’s main ally and economic partner. The hotel remained unfinished for 16 years, with a bare concrete structure and a crane on top. It became an eyesore and an embarrassment for the regime, which tried to hide it from view or erase it from official photographs.

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The hotel in 2004 c/o Timur at Danish Wikipedia, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, construction resumed with the help of an Egyptian company, Orascom Group, which was also involved in developing North Korea’s mobile network. The exterior of the hotel was covered with metal and glass panels by 2011, giving it a more modern appearance. The hotel was announced to open in 2012, coinciding with the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. However, this deadline was missed again, and no further progress has been reported since then.

Ryugyong Hotel
The hotel in 2012, c/o Martin Cígler via Wikimedia Commons

The hotel’s interior remains unfinished and inaccessible to the public. The only visible sign of activity is the installation of LED lights on one side of the building, which display colorful patterns and propaganda slogans at night. The hotel’s purpose and future are unclear, as it faces competition from newer and more luxurious hotels in Pyongyang, such as the Koryo Hotel and the Yanggakdo Hotel. Some speculate that the hotel may be used for office space, apartments, or a military facility.

Ryugyong Hotel LED Show
The LED light show. Photo c/o tavernarakis via Wikimedia Commons

The Ryugyong Hotel is a fascinating and mysterious landmark. It’s also a testament to the country’s grandiose vision of itself and to its isolation from the rest of the world. The hotel may never open its doors to guests, but it will always attract attention and curiosity from inside and outside North Korea.

Written by Editorial Team

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