Courtesy: DOM Publishers

A new book explores the politics behind the city's buildings.

As a general rule, dictators love architecture, and Kim Jong-il was no different. The late North Korean leader even authored a treatise on the art of building, 1991′s On Architecture, in which Kim extols the virtues of “Juche” architecture, that is, those works that were symbolically compatible, ideologically resonant, and formally representative of DPRK state doctrine. According to Kim, architects are both “creative workers and operations officers” whose work must cannot be successful, architecturally or otherwise, without the approval of the masses, "the true critics of architecture."

But, have a look through Philipp Meuser’s fascinating Pyongyang: Architectural and Cultural Guide, and it’s safe to say that the masses do not approve.

Despite Kim’s appeal to the masses, much of the architecture of Pyongyang, the dictator’s seat of power, is overwhelmingly authoritarian in tone. Large monuments of questionable taste dot the cityscape embodying Kim’s cult of personality, linked by absurdly wide Haussmannian boulevards and colossal public squares devoid of an actual public.

Featureless (but free) housing projects foreground the pedestal architecture, whose fragments are held visually together by a penchant for Stalinist grandeur and a schizophrenic eclecticism, with allusions to the building cultures of nearly every socialist regime of the last half century. Meuser’s book is split into two parts, the first of which consists of an actual North Korean architectural guide–the photos of which can be seen here–with the other functioning as exegesis, filled with critical texts that not only argue against the ugly power of Kim’s architecture, but also outlines potential lessons that Pyongyang, as a socio-urban model, has to offer.

All photos courtesy of DOM Publishing. This post first appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    The Side Pittsburgh Doesn't Want You to See

    Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey has spent over twelve years documenting the lives of the people displaced so that the city can achieve its “cool” status.  

  2. Equity

    Seattle Has 5 Big Pieces of Advice for Amazon’s HQ2 Winner

    Being HQ1 has been no picnic.

  3. Construction workers build affordable housing units.
    Equity

    Why Is 'Affordable' Housing So Expensive to Build?

    As costs keep rising, it’s becoming harder and harder for governments to subsidize projects like they’ve done in the past.

  4. The 560-foot-tall Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea.
    Videos

    Seeing Pyongyang in 360 Degrees

    A photographer in a microlight aircraft shot 360-degree video over the secretive North Korean capital.

  5. Design

    The Problem With 'Fast-Casual Architecture'

    Washington, D.C., has a huge new waterfront development that’s fun, popular, and easy on the eyes. Is anything wrong with that?