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New Use for North Korea’s Huge, Unfinished Hotel

Pyongyang, North Korea —(Map)

Ryugyong Hotel was supposed to become the world’s largest hotel. But after more than 30 years, it is still unfinished. Now the building has been turned into a huge screen showing positive messages about North Korea.

The Ryugyong Hotel, in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, is huge. The 105-story building is over 1,000 feet (330 meters) tall. It is a pyramid with three sides shaped like triangles. At the top of the triangles are eight floors that were meant to spin.

Ryugyong Hotel, 2009
The Ryugyong Hotel is a 30-year-old unfinished building over 1,000 feet (330 meters) tall. It is a pyramid with three sides shaped like triangles. At the top of the triangles are eight floors that were meant to spin. (This picture shows the hotel in 2009.)
(Source: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia, via Flickr.com.)

The hotel was started in 1987 by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il – the father of the current leader, Kim Jong Un. The building was meant to be the world’s largest hotel. But when the country ran low on money in 1992, the building was stopped. Around $750 million had been spent on the hotel – almost 2% of all the money the country could create in a year.

For years, the building sat unfinished. The main frame of the hotel was there, but it had no windows and was not finished on the outside. Some people said that even the frame of the building was not safe and could not be completed.

North Korea — Pyongyang, Ryugyong Hotel 28 July 2007
For years, the building sat unfinished. The main frame of the building was there, but it had no windows. The hotel embarrassed the government so much that it was not shown on official maps of the city. (This picture shows the hotel in 2007.)
(Source: Stephan [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

The building embarrassed the government so much that the hotel was not shown on official maps of the city. The government also changed the official pictures of the city so that the hotel did not appear.

In 2008, after the building had been sitting for 16 years, work began again. By 2011, the outside was finished.

Ryugyong Hotel, 2012
By 2011, the outside was finished. Some parts of the hotel were supposed to open in 2013, but that didn’t happen. Work started again in 2016, but it is still not clear when or if the inside might be finished. (This picture shows the hotel in 2012.)
(Source: Martin Cígler [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Some parts of the hotel were supposed to open in 2013, but that didn’t happen. Work started again in 2016, but it is still not clear when or if the inside might be finished. The building holds the Guinness World Record for the largest building that no one lives in or uses.

But a new use has been found for the outside of the building. Kim Yong Il created special displays on the building, using over 100,000 LEDs. LEDs are very bright lights that can change color and be controlled by a computer. Mr. Kim spent around five months creating the light show, which started in April of last year with a waving North Korean flag at the top of the hotel.

Kim Yong Il spent around five months creating special displays on the building, using over 100,000 LEDs. This picture of Mr. Kim in front of his display was posted on the Internet by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Now, for several hours every night, the building repeats a four-minute light display, showing some of the history of the country and its famous landmarks, along with fireworks and positive messages about the country.

“I feel proud,” says Mr. Kim. “The goal of setting up this light screen is to give confidence and hope for the future to our people.”

There is still no official word on when the hotel might open, but for now, at least, the light show seems to have turned something that was embarrassing into something that North Korean people are proud of.

The four-minute light display shows some of the history of the country and its famous landmarks, along with fireworks and positive messages about the country. This picture of the LED display was posted on the Internet by NK News.

Pyongyang, North Korea


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