North Korea may be a nightmarishly oppressive state, but for architects there’s a sliver of dreamland within – the capital, Pyongyang.
As architects Cristiano Bianchi and Kristina Drapic explain in their new book, Model City Pyongyang.
They say: ‘We realised that the city does have its own strange kind of beauty. Pyongyang embodies the dream of total planning, to which every architect secretly aspires; jettisoning planning restrictions, space ratio guidelines, land costs and all of the other constraints that govern modern architecture, and returning to the idea of a city of the people, in which everything is designed in a single, cohesive vision.’
The pair visited Pyongyang several times with the support of the Korea Cities Foundation between 2015 and 2018 to photograph its architecture for the book. And while they operated within ‘iron-clad’ restrictions – for example, residential buildings had to be captured from a certain distance and the military was off-limits entirely – they were given access to buildings not normally open to foreigners.
The result is a tome packed with over 200 fascinating images, with subjects ranging from the space-age Electronics Industry Hall to the 53-storey Unha Tower and an ice rink based on the shape of a skater’s helmet.
Scroll down to see a selection of the incredible snaps that appear in the tome…
The Mansudae Art Theatre, which was built in 1978. The book says: ‘The design somehow manages to be both brutalist and highly decorative’
The Electronics Industry Hall, which is part of the Three Revolutions Exhibition – a museum. According to the book, this cultural complex is the official showcase of Kim Il Sung’s three revolutions – ideological, technical and cultural, which are the ‘guiding precepts of the Workers’ Party of Korea’
The huge Badminton Hall in Pyongyang, which is based on the design of a shuttlecock. According to the book, stands surround the playing courts
The Central Youth Hall in Pyongyang, which was built in 1989. The design of the building was chosen in a competition judged by Kim Jong-il. The book says that the red roof is meant to resemble a piano and an accordion
The May Day Stadium in Rungra Island, Pyongyang, which is best known for hosting the Mass Games – a form of performing arts and gymnastics. When it was built in 1989, it was one of the largest stadiums in the world
Inside the May Day Stadium. According to the book, its original traditional interior has been replaced by ‘a saturated palette of pastel colours’
The entrance to Puhung Station on the Pyongyang metro system. Before 2010, it was one of only two stations on the network that tourists in North Korea were allowed to visit
In the middle of these colourful buildings is the Monument to Party Founding, which was built in 1995 to mark 50 years since the founding of North Korea’s Workers’ Party of Korea. The monument consists of a hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush to symbolise the country’s workers, farmers and intellectuals
The 53-storey Unha Tower (left) is one of the tallest buildings in North Korea. It is located on Mirae Street. The book says that since King Jong-un came to power in 2012, ‘Pyongyang has undergone a period of intense transformation’. On the right are residential buildings on Sungri Street in the city. They are highly unusual in their configuration because they form ‘two wings that curve in different directions’
The pool inside Changgwang Health Complex. According to the book, the complex has a ‘surprisingly colourful interior that features tiles, glass bricks, mosaics, marble and wallpaper’
Inside the extremely colourful Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, a public facility where children can take part in after-school activities. The book describes the building’s exterior as ‘an unexpectedly playful space filled with hyper-saturated colour’
The Pyongyang Ice Rink, which was completed in 1982 and can hold 6,000 people. The book calls it ‘one of the most recognisable buildings in the city’ and says it is modelled on a ‘skater’s helmet’
An aerial view across Kim Il-sung Square. The main building, the Tribune Building, has portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on its facade. According to the book, Kim Jong-un stands in front of this building during official events and celebrations
An aerial photograph of a hazy Pyongyang. The book says: ‘Pyongyang is filled with buildings that are potent with symbolism and have become iconic works of architecture – even beyond the confines of the DPRK’
Model City Pyongyang by Cristiano Bianchi and Kristina Drapic is published by Thames & Hudson. It costs £19.95