Ryugyong Hotel: Transforming a Vast Concrete Skeleton into a Glass-clad Skyscraper

(Images: Timur, public domain; Pocketchef; cc-sa-3.0)

Since construction began in 1987, the Ryugyong Hotel has dominated the skyline of North Korea‘s capital Pyongyang. Meaning “capital of willows” and nicknamed “The 105 Building” – a reference to its number of floors – the monolithic structure has featured widely on architecture and urban exploration websites. All but abandoned until recently, the vast, concrete hulk is finally being completed, although its very existence remains as shadowy as the Communist regime presiding over its construction.

(Image: Myouzke, cc-sa-3.0)

The Ryugyong Hotel was originally set to open in 1989 in time for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students. But after several delays, construction came to a halt in 1992 following widespread economic disruptions and a shortage of raw materials in North Korea following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Topped out at 1,080 feet, but lacking windows and internal fittings, the concrete skeleton towered above Pyongyang for the next 16 years before construction resumed in 2008. In that period, its foreboding appearance became synonymous with North Korea’s capital and an enduring symbol of the twisted regime.

(Images: Kiwitz; Myouzke; cc-sa-3.0)

Information regarding the structure has always been notoriously hard to obtain. Strangest of all – but perhaps due to national embarrassment – the ruling elite denied its very existence for many years, going so far as to manipulate official photographs in order to remove the it from the city’s skyline.

Historically dubbed “The Worst Building in the World”, “Hotel of Doom” and “Phantom Hotel”, significant progress has been made over the past four years due to heavy investment by Orascom Group of Egypt. Set to encompass a hotel, apartments, business facilities and restaurants, the landmark structure could finally be completed in the near future.

(Images: ByeByeBaby, cc-sa-3.0; David Stanley, cc-3.0)

But typical of the secretive regime, reliable information is hard to come by. What we can say for certain is that the gleaming glass facade is a vast improvement over the dull and foreboding concrete image that will continue to haunt the Ryugyong Hotel and its surroundings for years.

Keep reading – explore these ghost towns and abandoned cities of Asia, or browse these 5 bizarre buildings from Europe to North America.



  • I was in North Korea a few weeks ago, and tried to take as many photos as I can. Got many photos from that hotel as well, as it was one of my dream to get there! 🙂 Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let you approach it less than 300 meters. I’ve actually seen that building mentioned on all the official maps of Pyongyang (even older ones), so I’m not sure they tried to “hide” it that much. Construction is supposed to be 100% finished in a few weeks, for Kim Il Sung’s 100 years birthday. My guides said it would be possible to visit it…

  • Scott

    I am currently working on a documentary on North Korea.  Is there any chance you would let us use some of your pictures?

  • Of course, no problem ! Not everything I have is uploaded on the website so please ask if you have a special request 🙂

  • Scott

    You really have some beautiful photos.  I have pulled some images from your site which I will see if I can cut into our film.  Can I contact you late to get a release and info to credit you? Should I just use the admin contact on your site? Thanks again for the quick response.

  • Thanks 🙂 I really tried my best to take nice pictures there, and it wasn’t easy. Please use the contact page on my site, it’s fine. You’re welcome!


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