North Korea’s Swanky New High-Rises Are Just As Terrible As You Would Expect


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea’s towering high-rises are reportedly pretty terrible places to live.

Pyongyang, the North’s capital city, is home to a number of 40- and 50-story structures, but few residents are willing to live above the 20th floor.

“Almost no one wants to live on the high-rise floors,” a Chinese businessman living in Pyongyang, told Radio Free Asia. The elevators don’t work most of the time, there are regular power outages, and there is no running water on the higher floors. “Many of these apartments remain empty, and homeless children who have no place to go will secretly live there as a result.”

The young North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un called for the construction of high-rises and skyscrapers in the capital last March to show “the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by the U.S. imperialists and their followers” and “the truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.”

One of North Korea’s more iconic structures is the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel.

When the project was abandoned due to lack of funds, homeless children reportedly settled inside, often getting in altercations with the local authorities. Construction was eventually restarted, and the hotel was completed in 2012.

A defector told RFA that other high-rises are likely to face the same fate. “It will be hard to find residents for the high-rise floors, and eventually those floors will be occupied by homeless children just as they are in the other buildings,” the North Korean defector told RFA’s reporters.

A lack of utilities, poor services, and gangs of homeless children may not be the biggest problem though.

North Korean leadership demands that structures be built at “Mallima Speed,” a reference to a mythological winged horse that could travel tremendous distances at supernatural speed. North Korean construction teams have managed to throw up skyscrapers in record time.

Reports from last August revealed project managers for North Korean construction projects were openly giving their exhausted workers methamphetamines to allow them to work longer.

The quality of the finished structures are believed to be quite low given the conditions in which they are constructed.

A few years ago, a high-rise structure in Pyongyang collapsed due to “slipshod” construction. “If this is a genuine example of the general standard of high rise construction in North Korea, it is no surprise to me that the collapse occurred and there is a serious risk that it will not be an isolated incident,” Chartered Structural Engineer Professor John Nolan, the former president of the London-based Institution of Structural Engineers, told NK News.

Nolan called North Korea’s construction “truly shocking.”

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