Oliver Wainwright’s new book, Inside North Korea, chronicles the historical evolution of Pyongyang’s powerful architecture from its inception in 1953 to today
The pastel modernist buildings of Pyongyang might at first seem incongruous given the rhetoric in the media about the atrocities occurring under Kim Jong Un’s regime. Oliver Wainwright’s shrewd photographs portray a city changing rapidly since it was built entirely from scratch after the end of the Korean War in the 1950’s, to fit Kim’s internationalist ambition.
The North Korean capital was conceived by the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung as an imposing capital crisscrossed by vast boulevards and gargantuan monuments. The third Kim to rule North Korea, Jong Un has encouraged building: “Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland,” declares one of his official patriotic slogans.
His goal is to transform Pyongyang into a vision of prosperity, using architecture as a powerful anaesthetic. Not many images of North Korea have surfaced over the years, but as Kim increasingly occupies a central role in the international stage thanks to his hot-cold relationship with Donald Trump, Wainright’s book is particularly timely.
“My photographs are an attempt to offer a glimpse inside North Korea, revealing Pyongyang to be a place of candy-coloured apartment buildings and pastel-hued interiors—a series of precisely composed stage sets that could be straight out of a Wes Anderson movie,” he the architecture critic and writer.
This collection features about 300 photographs with insightful captions, as well as an introductory essay where Wainwright charts the history and development of Pyongyang, explaining how the architecture and interiors embody the national “Juche” ideology and questioning what the future holds for the architectural ambitions of this enigmatic country.