All 105 stories of the Hotel of Doom loom over the city like a tower worthy to be the film location of the next sci-fi or fantasy film. Like many other structures in the gray city of Pyongyang, North Korea, the Ryugyong Hotel remains uninhabited and serves as the country’s way to prove to the world that they are indeed a developing nation and is open to foreign investors. But many know that that is far from the truth—Ryugyong is nothing but an eyesore that clearly depicts the struggling economy of North Korea.
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Brieft History of North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel
A monumental disaster
Despite continuously trying to assert its power, the North Korean government has failed to gather funds to finish the Ryugyong Hotel from its already famished society. Construction began in 1987 and was scheduled to be completed by June 1989 to commemorate the socialist youth conference.
Progress was clearly delayed and North Korea met a major road block during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. At that time, the communist state was completely dependent on them for food and monetary supplies. This put a major halt in the country’s cash flow, and as a result, the construction of the North Korean hotel that was supposed to rival iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower officially came to an end.
Twenty-seven years later, it now resembles a lifeless pyramid with all three thousand rooms, revolving restaurants, and a number of casinos standing still in time.
“Hotel of Doom”
The media started giving nicknames to the Ryugyong Hotel when rumors started to circulate that former North Korea dictator Kim Il-Sung ordered to completely stop the construction. They called it The Phantom Hotel, The Worst Building in the World, and the most famous name had to be The Hotel of Doom.
Looking back into the history of this ill-fated building, North Korea got the idea of constructing this hotel after South Korean company SsangYong Group spearheaded the construction of the Westin Stamford Hotel, the world’s tallest hotel building in 1986.
North Korean construction firm Baikdoosan Architects & Engineers, also known as Baekdu Mountain Architects and Engineers, began construction in 1987. After the first delay happened past the 1989 deadline, North Korea stated that it was caused by some method and material issues.
By 1992, the building managed to reach 1,082.7 ft and could have been the tallest hotel had it opened on schedule.
According to Japanese media, the estimated cost of the Ryugyong Hotel had surpassed $750 million, which is more than 2 percent of North Korea’s GDP. When the construction halted, the whole structure was met with criticism—from the building’s quality and safety to how North Korean leaders were ever planning to ever finish this construction nightmare.
Attempts to Reconstruct the Doomed Hotel
Sixteen years into inactivity, Egyptian company Orascom Group entered a $400 million deal with North Korea to build and run a 3G mobile network in the building. The company said that their operations were in no way related to the hotel.
Despite the frail structure of the whole area, one thing Orascom managed to do was to successfully cover the facade with sleek glass panels, and another was to install their telecommunications antennas. Their work was officially finished last 2011, and the media questioned when would the long-delayed opening be finally announced as even photos of furniture fixtures were released to the media.
A year after Orascom took over, the management of the building was once again passed to international hotel chain Kempinski Hotel Group, who announced that the Ryugyong Hotel was to open summer of 2013.
27 years and still nothing
Needless to say, no grand opening happened in 2013. Chinese tour group Koryo Tours was able to release photos showing the “progress” of the hotel, which displayed nothing but hollow concrete inside despite the grand facade. The whole building seemed like an ironic metaphor to the country, with its seemingly strong demeanor overshadowing the struggles that the people of North Korea have to face every day.
Journalist Simon Parry traveled to North Korea disguised as a businessman to see the Ryugyong Hotel up close the same year Koryo Tours released their photos. He describes the hotel as “a huge pyramid is looming out of the darkness. It is the same shape and size as the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the first shards of sunrise bouncing off the peak of its vast mirrored surface.” Parry went on to say how the Ryugyong Hotel mirrors the bleak life of the country with the interior to be nothing but bare concrete.
North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel is nothing but an ambitious dictator’s dream. At an expense, it is the starving population of North Korea that is continuously paying the price. For investors, planning a massive project takes a lot of consideration before anything else—something the people behind the construction of the hotel didn’t think of.
As the people of North Korea set their eyes on where the hotel stands, they’ll see an abandoned structure looming over their gray city—many of them still oblivious of the wasted money that was spent on it.