In This Review

Model City: Pyongyang
Model City: Pyongyang
By Cristiano Bianchi and Kristina Drapić
MIT Press, 2019, 224 pp

If you can’t visit Pyongyang, this is the next best thing: a book filled with photographs of its weirdly shaped and oddly colored buildings. Under the Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il) and the current supreme leader (Kim Jong Un), North Korean architects over the past quarter century reversed an earlier trend of copying Soviet styles. The unfinished, 105-story Ryugyong Hotel is built in the shape of a rocket ship. The City of Sports complex boasts 12 huge buildings, each devoted to a particular game. The two-and-a-half-mile-long, 400-foot-wide Kwangbok Street is lined with 30- to 42-story residential towers, each built on one of seven designs. Every edifice, every cluster of buildings, and the city plan as a whole make ideological statements of fealty to the leader, national power, and ultra-modernity. Vast spaces and long vistas overwhelm the visitor’s sense of individuality. Pyongyang is designed as a people’s paradise—one with mostly empty streets.