Sunday, August 28, 2011

Architecture in Pyongyang

If you've watched The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, you have observed the extent to which North Korea has served as a model to the Romanian dictator. Watch particularly the following scene, with a Korean singer playing a Romanian country piece dear to the Romanian leader:

This is the only time on record when the dictator is seen genuinely happy, dropping his guard and letting a smile. Ceaușescu visited the East Asian country in 1971, and was so impressed with the popular manifestations organized for him by Korean communist leader Kim Ir Sen that he decided to emulate what he had observed back in Romania. As soon as he returned from his trip, he tightened his grip on power, issuing what are called the Theses of July, a mini-Cultural revolution mandating a return to Socialist Realism in Romanian written and visual arts.

A few years later, in 1977, the March 4 earthquake devastates the city of Bucharest.

01.jpg02.jpg03.jpg04.jpg05.jpg06.jpg07.jpg08.jpg09.jpg10.jpg11.jpg12.jpg14.jpg15.jpg16.jpg1977_biserica_ienei_foto_5.jpgbloc1977.jpgcontinental.jpgoldb25.jpg(photo collage credit: Alex Galmeanu)

Not inclined to let a good crisis go to waste, Ceaușescu decides to rebuild the city on the model of Pyongyang. One quarter of the old city is leveled, and replaced with concrete apartment buildings, to the horror of the lovers of historic Bucharest. The vast majority of the capital's citizens think the dictator has gone mad, yet nobody protests the demolition in the city.

Few understood then, and few understand now why North Korean architecture exercised such a pull on the Romanian dictator. But as any of his other mad decisions, at its core it had a kernel of logic. Here is a clip by Berlin architect Philipp Meuser, who was recently allowed to shoot a few Pyongyang architectural scenes. Despite the totalitarian outlook of the city, it is an architectural jewel, and when one day North Korea will be a free country Pyongyang will be one of the most highly sought tourist attractions especially for its mesmerizing sky-risers and apartment buildings. As Meuser says, modern architecture has always been ideological, and on this Pyongyang offers no exception.

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