Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel. Credit: Mark Wilkinson/
Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel. Credit: Mark Wilkinson/


It’s been called ‘huge’, ‘ugly’ and ‘unfinished’, and finally Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel may be shedding one of those attributes at least – the unfinished one.

With the approaching centenary celebrations for the founder of the world’s most reclusive, secretive and oppressive nation, the ‘Eternal President’ of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, it appears the 105-storey, 330m building may be nearing some type of completion.

Started in 1987 by the specially-formed Ryugyong Hotel Investment and Management Co, the objective was to create the tallest hotel in the world. But construction of the quasi-pyramidic, 3000-room structure stalled in 1992 soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was hoped that the over-optimistic tower would attract USD$230 million in foreign investment with one North Korean official promising a relaxed oversight: “The foreign investors can even operate casinos, nightclubs or Japanese lounges if they want to.”

The money never came.

Without funds and facing issues with building materials, construction only resumed in April 2008 after a deal was struck with Egyptian telecommunications company, the Orascom Group, who are also installing a 3G mobile phone network for North Korea (where mobile phones are banned).

The USD$400 million deal apparently involves rendering the building to a point where it no longer resembles a concrete monstrosity. As of September 2011, some glass panels, the spire and telecommunications antennae were installed and its appearance altered to merely glass monstrosity. The resemblance and connection to the fabled pyramids of Giza is only coincidental, and by many accounts, the ancient Pharaohs were better builders.

Dubbed the ‘Hotel of Doom’, the ‘Phantom Hotel’ and the ‘Phantom Pyramid’, some are calling for the estimated USD$750m tower’s demolition. Inspection of the structure by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea (EUCCK) a decade ago found the elevator shafts were crooked and the building “irreparable”. And even if by some re-engineering marvel the rooms were complete, where was North Korea going to get enough visitors to fill 3000 rooms?

Perhaps then, the Ryugyong Hotel will serve merely as a gleaming monument to the Stalinist regime’s failed ambitions.