Is North Korea’s Mysterious ‘Hotel Of Doom’ One Step Closer To Completion?

North Korea’s unfinished Ryugyong Hotel has unveiled new renovations over the past week. The 105-story building is famous (or infamous) for having been in construction since 1987. Just last week, North Korea tore down construction barriers blocking the entrance and revealed a brand new walkway and a red propaganda sign reading “Rocket Power Nation” in Korean. Still, the Ryugyong Hotel seems to remain unoccupied despite towering over the Pyongyang skyline.

Original plans for the Ryugyong Hotel were optimistic. According to the official website, when construction began in 1987, the hotel was supposed to open in 1989. However, North Korea’s failing economy, famine, and unreliable power halted the project. The building sat idle for nearly 15 years. While the interior remained unfinished, the exterior has undergone many renovations starting in 2008. In 2011, the glass facade was complete, and the building had reached its full height, 1,082 feet or 330 meters tall. At the beginning of its construction, it was the first building over 100 stories tall outside of the United States.

The Daily Mail reported that construction of the Ryugyong Hotel began as a snub to South Korea after they hosted the 1988 Olympics, when the Soviet Union, North Korea’s supporter, collapsed in 1992. The cost of construction came to over $500 million. The debt from hotel construction contributed to a nationwide famine that killed more than 3 million people, a disaster that contributed to its Western nickname, the “Hotel of Doom.”

North Korean leader Kim Jung On
Kim Jung Un waves to crowds in this 2013 photo. Construction on the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang is just one of the projects he has began since taking over in 2011. [Image by Wong Maye-E/AP Images]

The hotel was intended to attract a high profile clientele. It was designed to house 3,000 rooms, casinos, nightclubs, Japanese lounges, and revolving restaurants. Starting in 2008, Orascom, an Egyptian company, took an interest in the construction of the hotel. They renovated the top floors and began work on the building’s cladding. Orascom stated that they wanted to make the building more attractive, though at the time it was doubtful if the hotel would operate. Later, North Korea announced that the Ryugyong Hotel would open in 2012, the year that would have been the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first leader. Five years later, the tower remains incomplete and uninhabitable.

The latest construction resurrected curiosities that the hotel could open soon. North Korea’s renovations to the hotel coincided with the country’s celebrations of the Korean War armistice.

Ryugyong Hotel towers over apartments in Pyongyang
Renovations continue on the pyramid shaped Ryugyong Hotel, a.k.a. the 'Hotel of Doom' despite run down living structures in Pyongyang [Image by Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images]

In December, rumors swirled that the hotel may finally open when lights were spotted on the top floors, suggesting that electricity is running through the building. Construction resumed even though the city of Pyongyang is so poor they cannot even maintain a stable electric connection. The apartment buildings that house the nation’s elite appear run down and dated next to the futuristic glass pyramid of the Ryugyong Hotel. The sporadic updates on the exterior may only be for show. According to the New York Post, the building has remained idle for so many years that some are concerned a grand opening may not be possible with the current structure. A 1990s inspection by the European delegation ruled that the shell was irreparable and should be torn down.

The renovations to the “Hotel of Doom” are just one of the developments current North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un, has started since he took power in 2011.

[Featured Image by Feng Li/Getty Images]