By  on November 23, 2005

PYONGYANG, North Korea — This capital was razed in 1952 and immediately rebuilt in a gigantic version of Western Modernism.

In this strange, isolated city can be found all the classics that inspired generations of European and American architects — German architect Ludwig Hilberseimer's Vertical City may be seen from Thongil Road, look-alikes of Le Corbusier's cruciform tower blocks line Kwangbok Road and the Kaeson cinema is reminiscent of Russian architect Konstantin Melnikov's work.

As a gesture to share its culture with the West, earlier this year the government invited Stefano Boeri, editor in chief of the Italian design magazine Domus, to visit Pyongyang, which is usually closed to Western journalists. He brought artist Arman Linke with him and they returned to Milan with photographs of the city and published them in Domus.

Statues, monuments and towers loom over Pyongyang's public spaces, symbols of the North Korean regime's power over the lives of its citizens. The emblem par excellence of the dictatorship through architecture is undoubtedly the Ryugyong Hotel, a 1,083-foot-high, pyramid-shaped concrete skeleton that was intended to be the world's tallest hotel when construction began in 1987. Left unfinished and empty when costs went out of control, the hotel dominates the city's center, a symbol of the ambitions and failures of the Kim Jong Il regime, which now refuses to even acknowledge the structure's existence. Boeri has put out a call to architects to suggest how to bring this building back to life.

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