This 300-meter-high skyscraper would be an imposing presence in any city’s skyline. In Pyongyang, North Korea it dwarfs every other structure in sight, dominating not only the skyline but the city itself. It is North Korea’s largest building, and yet it remains for the moment, unfinished.
In 1986, a South Korean Group completed the construction of the 226-meter-tall Westin Stamford Hotel in Singapore, at the time the most ambitious construction project ever undertaken by a Korean company. The communist leadership of the North wanted to prove that its own engineers were capable of constructing a building on an even more grandiose scale. Baekdu Mountain Architects & Engineers started construction on the tower in 1987. Its name translates to “capital of willows” and it was a historic moniker of Pyongyang.
The building consists of three triangular sections, each 100 meters long. The sections converge at the summit, giving an overall pyramidal outline to the structure. It is a gigantic building containing roughly 360,000 square meters–roughly 67 football fields–of floor space. At the very summit of the hotel is a 40-meter-tall, eight-floor conical structure, which was supposed to house seven revolving restaurants. The hotel’s original plans called for 3,000 rooms, as well as plenty of space for additional commercial venues.
According to the original plan, the hotel was supposed to open in 1989, however, construction problems forced the government to postpone its opening several times. In the early 1990s, multiple problems hit the project. Poor quality materials, electricity shortages, and a widespread famine in the country all became serious obstacles to the completion of the building. Expected foreign investments never materialized. Finally, in 1992, construction was halted. Japanese sources estimate that over the course of its construction, the project swallowed over two percent of North Korea’s GDP, or roughly 750 million US dollars.
The hotel’s empty shell was left standing empty for 16 years. Due to the financial burden the project placed on the already starving nation, and the drab and menacing look of the naked concrete structure, foreign media dubbed the hotel the “World’s Worst Building” and the “Hotel of Doom.” Nevertheless, work resumed in 2008, and a slick glass facade was installed and finished by 2011. The new official date for the opening of the Hotel was set for 2012, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung.
Plans ground to a halt for a second time in March 2013, when the company that expressed interest in running the hotel pulled out; likely in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests. As of 2016, the building remains closed.