Hotel Terminus

Esquire's pick for the Worst Building in the History of Mankind:

A picture doesn't lie -- the one-hundred-and-five-story Ryugyong Hotel is hideous, dominating the Pyongyang skyline like some twisted North Korean version of Cinderella's castle. Not that you would be able to tell from the official government photos of the North Korean capital -- the hotel is such an eyesore, the Communist regime routinely covers it up, airbrushing it to make it look like it's open -- or Photoshopping or cropping it out of pictures completely.

Even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly, a series of three gray 328-foot long concrete wings shaped into a steep pyramid. With 75 degree sides that rise to an apex of 1,083 feet, the Hotel of Doom (also known as the Phantom Hotel and the Phantom Pyramid) isn't the just the worst designed building in the world -- it's the worst-built building, too. In 1987, Baikdoosan Architects and Engineers put its first shovel into the ground and more than twenty years later, after North Korea poured more than two percent of its gross domestic product to building this monster, the hotel remains unoccupied, unopened, and unfinished.

Update: Peter Hitchens wrote about the abandoned hotel in the Daily Mail last October:

Brooding over the deranged cityscape is the ugliest building in the universe, a 1,000ft pyramid, already a ruin though it has never been finished and never will be, perhaps because the money has run out, perhaps because it is so jerry-built that nobody would ever have dared stay in it.

Official guides pretend not to notice it though it is by far the tallest structure in Pyongyang.

This symbol of overweening ambition is by a strange coincidence the exact shape and size of the Ministry of Truth, the chief source of official lies in George Orwell's prophecy of just such a state, and just such a city, in 1984.

It is almost as if North Korea's rulers have taken Orwell's novel as a handbook rather than a warning.

But where Orwell's ministry was a glittering white, the abandoned Ryugyong Hotel is a dingy dun-brown, its hundreds of glassless windows like sockets gazing at what its maker, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, has wrought.

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  • ||

    Isn't this building some of the " spare, elegant, functional" modern architecture Will Williamson was yapping about being like Libertarianism earlier this week?

  • Fluffy||

    I would tend to look askance at criticism of prominent architecture that contemporaneous with construction, since opinions so often change later.

    But in this case I have to ask:

    Why does the largest building in the country have to be a hotel, when no one is allowed to travel there?

  • ||

    You construct a building that much larger than everything around it to display power.

    You construct a building that shockingly different from everything around it to display scorn.

    The building's theoretical use doesn't matter. If no one ever rents a room there, it will still have achieved its purpose.

  • Fluffy||

    Not unless the Great Pyramid in Egypt or the Luxor Hotel in Vegas are also spare.

  • ||

    Looks cool to me.

    If it had been built in Vegas, you'd probably be all moist over it.

  • ||

    Except for the fact that it isn't spare, functional, or elegant, yes, it's exactly like that.

  • Fluffy||

    Difference = scorn?

    Wait until I tell the Democrats about that. They'll have to throw Joe out of their party for revealing such a sentiment.

  • ||

    That looks like New Chicago, i.e., a budget-minded rendering of a fake city in the future, except no Princess Ardala bouncy bouncy.

  • Christopher Monnier||

    > Isn't this building some of the " spare, elegant, functional" modern architecture Will Williamson was yapping about being like Libertarianism earlier this week?

    Spare? I guess. Elegant? No way. Functional? Nope. I don't think this is what Will Wilkinson had in mind. I can't speak for Will, but I'm guessing he was thinking more along the lines of sleek, refined, subtle design. Like the iPhone or a nice stainless steel light fixture. Maybe something like this.

  • ||

    The building's profile looks like a chart for Google stock.

  • Jesse Walker||

    If it had been built in Vegas

    If it had been built in Vegas, it would be either open and serving willing customers or closed and torn down and replaced with something else. And it (hopefully) would have been built with private funds, not with money forcibly extracted from some of the poorest people on the planet.

    (But you've given me an idea. Do you think there's a market for a book called Learning from Pyongyang?)

  • Jesse Walker||

    I don't think this is what Will Wilkinson had in mind.

    Yes, but John was talking about "Will Williamson." Kind of like the difference between Harold Robbins and Harold Robinson.

  • ||

    I'm not convinced this building is significantly uglier than the WTC.

    And, yes, if it was in Vegas, it would be fully occupied, and generating a handsome return on investment.

  • ||

    Anyone played the Mercenaries video game? That building damn sure looks like the model for one of the Ace missions where you call in the nuke air strike.

  • ||

    It's North Korea's dunce cap.

  • ||

    Actually, it most closely resembles Sauron's Dark Tower in LOTR.

    IIRC, however, Sauron was considerably taller than Dear Leader.

  • ||

    It just needs some paint.

  • ||

    I hate to say it, but I always thought the Twin Towers were the ugliest buildings in the world. That fountain out front looked like a hidden camera. Lobby: hideous. Mostly too tall and thin and out of place looking.

  • ||

    Confirmed at Wiki:

    "In the first Ace Contract, the player is required to destroy "Song Tower" with a bunker buster bomb. The tower depicted in the game resembles the completed Ryugyong Hotel building, which has been standing vacant in Pyongyang since construction was stalled in 1992."

  • Kolohe||

    I think the mercenaries video game used real buildings and geography in DPRK. The DMZ area, for instance, showed the UN HQ exactly as the real one looks in Panmunjom.

  • Charles Brown, PhD||

    It's not a bad little building. All it needs is a little love.

  • Taktix®||

    The building's profile looks like a chart for Google stock.

    I guess I'm failing to see the aesthetic issue with this building. Granted, the means by which is was build are horrid, but it doesn't really look that bad.

    I imagine that a country like N. Korea, which doesn't have a lot of stand-out buildings, would want to build something to really stand out. I mean, isn't that the whole point of these monsters?

  • Taktix®||

    And I'm not totally sure why I quoted that in my last post.

    I have server squirrels in my head, I guess...

  • highnumber||

    Not that Esquire is qualified to choose or anything, but I agree and I, too, am not qualified to choose.

    I find that building and everything about North Korea fascinating in a horrible, depressing sort of way.
    This guy put together an interesting travelogue when he visited.

  • Linus van Pelt, CBE||

    I concur.

  • ||

    Frodo and Sam were considerably taller than Dear Leader.

    This building makes a nice centerpiece for Blizzard Mailman Peninsula, the arch enemy of Rainbow Puppy Island.

  • jackanapestarian||

    Looks like they ran out of money to buy the window glass as well. Scary as it looks from the outside, the inside must be a scene from hell.

  • ||

    Not that you would be able to tell from the official government photos of the North Korean capital -- the hotel is such an eyesore, the Communist regime routinely covers it up, airbrushing it to make it look like it's open -- or Photoshopping or cropping it out of pictures completely.

    That is what gets me. Nothing shows the total failure of communism better than the way it's leaders insist everyone believe what they tell them to, and ignore all that subversive reality.

  • ||

    Fluffy,

    Don't worry about that whooshing sensation on your scalp.

  • Modern Day Ancient Aztec||

    They should totally have their executions on top of that thing every Sunday!

  • DavidS||

    The video in the Esquire article is fab...

  • Rimfax||

    Wikipedia: Ryugyong Hotel

    The top is unfinished and still sports an abandoned crane left over from the construction effort. There are no windows or fixtures. Rainwater flows through the building. And, yes, it is the building from "Mercenaries".

  • Taktix®||

    P.S. Mercenaries 2 is coming out soon, and takes place in Venezuela. I assume to protests from joe are forthcoming.

  • Episiarch||

    I have a feeling it would look a hell of a lot better with windows.

  • ||

    Is there big, coked-up, Wolfenstein-style Hugo Chavez at the end?

  • Taktix®||

    Is there big, coked-up, Wolfenstein-style Hugo Chavez at the end?

    King Koopa in a pantsuit...

  • ||

    OTOH, it's going to look real cool when they implode it.

  • ||

    OTOH, it's going to look real cool when they implode launch it.

  • ||

    P.S. Mercenaries 2 is coming out soon...

    They announced a week and a half ago that it would be delayed until - gulp - 2009. Ouch!

  • shecky||

    John:
    Maybe all it needs is a few game trophies and wood paneling to satisfy your tastes.

  • ||

    Do you think there's a market for a book called Learning from Pyongyang?

    It'd be what, one sentence? "If they'd do it in NORK, don't."

  • jackanapestarian||

    North Korea poured more than two percent of its gross domestic product to building this monster

    What, it only cost $47?

  • ||

    "John:
    Maybe all it needs is a few game trophies and wood paneling to satisfy your tastes."

    It couldn't hurt. But since Dear Leader is a consistent opponent of the war, he can't be that bad in Reason's eyes.

    What is sad about this is not how ugly it is. What is sad is that a country that periodically starves millions of its people is spending money it doesn't have on buildings that will never be used. Pyongyang is the strangest and most horrible place on earth.

  • ||

    In light of the way most North Koreans live and the monumental resources it must have taken to build this building, it would be ugly no matter what it looked like.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Not the ugliest building I have seen.

    Check out the federal courthouse in Albuquerque...

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d6/Pete_Domenici_US_Courthouse_Albuquerque.jpg

  • Neu Mejican||

    And that is a flattering shot of it.

  • ||

    The orange juicer of the gods....

  • ||

    Fluffy asked:

    Why does the largest building in the country have to be a hotel, when no one is allowed to travel there?

    Actually, yes, you can travel to North Korea. If you're not a journalist or an American, it's actually rather easy to get in these days. (The DPRK needs the hard currency.) North Korea gets a couple of thousand Western tourists a year.

    (If you are an American, it's not impossible either, though you'll only be allowed in for special occasions like Mass Games.)

    If you want to go, Koryo Tours (www.koryotours.com) is the most reputable agency specializing in travel to North Korea. Check their web site for more details.

    (I haven't gone myself, but I'd like to.)

    Relax--you won't be put up in the Ryugyong. ;)

  • ||

    Looks a lot like Jimmy Swaggart Ministries on Bluebonnet Rd. in Baton Rouge La. Looked that way ever since he sinned with the hooker and his proofit margin opps I mean tithing was drastically reduced. That was what 20+ years ago.

    Communism and Cheap hookers make for ugly ass buildings that never get finished evidently.

  • Nate||

    Hey, come on. Non-communists could really make this building pretty sweet.

  • ||

    Eh, I've seen worse-looking buildings, especially that Bilbao Guggenhiem thing everyone went orgasmic over a few years back.

  • ||

    NM, I think the most attractive part of that building is the parking garage.

  • ||

    This is what the architecture reminds me of. Even the title seems strangely appropriate.

    This and this were also derided as architectural affronts. Not so much now.
    Just sayin'.

  • ||

    I think the city hall in Boston has got to make any top ten list for worst buildings in human history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_City_Hall

    And one other point for all of the smartasses above concerning Williamson, I believe this building would be of the brutalist style, which is, a part of the modernist movement.

    "Brutalism is an architectural style that spawned from the modernist architectural movement and which flourished from the 1950s to the 1970s. The early style was inspired largely by the work of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and in particular his Unité d'Habitation (1952) and the 1953 Secretariat Building in Chandigarh, India."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brutalist_architecture

    So if Libertarianism is modernist, this thing would be its bastard son.

  • ||

    City Hall in Boston is only pretty bad; if the plaza was built on so that the building was just one structure in an urban streetscape, it would just ben a nondescript government office building.

    It's the layout, with the building being a prominent focal point on top of a field of concrete, that makes the building genuinely awful.

  • ||

    That and the fact that Thanial Hall or whatever it is is right down the hill and so nice. It is bad enough to be an ugly sister, but even worse to be have to stand next to your pretty one for your whole life.

  • ||

    I don't mind ugly architecture, so long as it isn't all ugly. Chicago comes to mind. Some of the ugly buildings are still nice to have around, for variety's sake.

  • ||

    They're talking about building a new one, John, and people with names like Amanda Wellington-Snootfoodle keep writing into the Globe about what a wonderful masterpiece City Hall is.

  • highnumber||

    ProGLib,

    Context means a lot.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Isn't this building some of the " spare, elegant, functional" modern architecture Will Williamson was yapping about being like Libertarianism earlier this week?

    No, he was talking about good modernist architecture. The kind that is so spare, elegant, and functional it makes one want to frolic:

    http://www.eichlernetwork.com/EBPhoto1.html

    Of course, there is frolicking in North Korea, too. But it occurs only in stadiums, with casts of thousands, and professional choreographers.

  • ||

    "They're talking about building a new one, John, and people with names like Amanda Wellington-Snootfoodle keep writing into the Globe about what a wonderful masterpiece City Hall is."

    In Atlanta they had a long article in the AJC of people lamenting the death of modernist and brutalist buildings built in the 60s and 70s that are now being torn down up and down Peachtree street. Take a picture of the for posterity and bring them down. Whatever replaces them can't be any worse.

  • ||

    I say, why not a giant titanium spike, with the bodies of all of North Korea's dissidents impaled on it?

  • Zod||

    That gives me an idea for Berwyn's car spike.

  • ||

    I think such people twist the concept of historic preservation, John. Buildings that are "artistically significant" or "characterize well a certain style of period" are worth preserving to the extent that they are assets than enhance the landscape and character of the city.

    The brutalist preservationists are making the same mistake as the brutalist architects; forgetting that the purpose of buildings is to serve the people who interact with them, not "art for art's sake."

  • Brn||

    Hitchens had an interesting story about the hotel from his visit. Because the building is unfinished (and apparently unfinishable) all the government lackies he met claimed that it did not exist and that they could not see it when he pointed it out, despite the fact that it dominates the Pyongyang skyline.

  • ||

    The emperor has no building.

  • Disgruntled||

    You construct a building that shockingly different from everything around it to display scorn.


    Ellsworth? Is that you?

  • ||

    God protect us from people who learned about architecture from an Ayn Rand novel.

  • ||

    Not me. I like the Parthenon.

  • ||

    I actually like some Brutalist buildings a lot. I just wouldn't to see a whole city full of it.

  • Salvius||

    I've always thought this building looked like the sort of thing Cthulhu will emerge from when the stars align...

  • ||

    joe:

    The interior of Boston City Hall is also absolutely dismal, much more than your run-of-the-mill municipal building.

  • Rhywun||

    This--hideous as it is--doesn't even come close to being the worst-designed building ever. There are many other examples to choose from. Oh yeah, and the WTC was hideous too.

  • robc||

    The louisville courthouse is pretty bad. The old courthouse is okay looking but the new one sucks. Maybe its because Im always depressed when I go to it (traffic court/jury duty).

    http://picasaweb.google.com/mbschulte/LouisvilleKY/photo#5026037423654045842

  • Rhywun||

    If you're not a journalist or an American

    I'm honored that pig doesn't want me to visit.

  • robc||

    Rhywun,

    Good God, that first building needs to die. I went blind just looking at it.

  • Russ 2000||

    In this case, brutalism also describes the labor and the funding of the building.

  • Rhywun||

    It's the layout, with the building being a prominent focal point on top of a field of concrete, that makes the building genuinely awful.

    I've tramped around that plaza & yep, it's depressing as hell. Kinda like the WTC plaza was. Sooooo glad that sort of thing is passe now.

  • Russ 2000||

    Jesse,

    You gotta make Rhywun's link a Friday Fun Link. That stuff's just too great not to deserve a thread of its own.

  • Matt||

    Maybe after Pyongyang crumbles this can be used for the inevitable Steven King "The Dark Tower" movie?

  • ||

    Great link, Rhywun.

  • Rhywun||

    That Louisville brutality isn't so bad, but... why is the parking garage on top?!

    I went blind just looking at it.

    The whole field of architecture is in a state of dismal mediocrity and occasional outright fraud now. Every town is champing at the bit for Gehry or Libeskind to crap out another spaceship or ball of cellophane tape. Nobody seems to care what they look like, what they do, or how they function. Makes me glad I flunked out of the architecture program...

  • highnumber||

    I sort of liked the Denver Art Museum (the last of Rhywun's links).

  • Russ 2000||

    This is what happens when art is subsidized.

  • ||

    I guess I'm some sort of reactionary, because I like buildings that look like buildings.

    I like buildings that have a nice, big, prominent front door right where you approach it. One that you can see from 3 blocks away. I know, crazy, huh?

  • robc||

    Rhywun,

    That Louisville brutality isn't so bad, but... why is the parking garage on top?!

    That isnt a parking garage. Those are the upper floors, I think. Either that or they have a secret parking garage that civilians arent allowed into. Which could be the case.

    There is surface parking for employees behind the building, IIRC. And a parking garage across the street on the right side that they validated for jury duty parking.

  • robc||

    I like buildings that look like buildings.

    Its time for the weekly "I agree with joe" post.

  • robc||

    Looking thru the gallery that I found the Louisville courthouse in, I found the following which leads me to a question for those who know more about architecture than I do. What category of archetecture is this?

    http://picasaweb.google.com/mbschulte/LouisvilleKY/photo#5026037342049667170

  • ||

    robc,

    I'd go with neo-Oldenburgian.

  • Russ 2000||

    Goddamned aluminum bats...

  • ||

    Its time for the weekly "I agree with joe" post.

    Beat me to it.

    Although I can probably rain on this parade by pointing out this is a big hobbyhorse of Prince Charles.

  • Rhywun||

    That isnt a parking garage.

    Yeah, I was being facetious. I sorta knew it was some architect having fun at our expense.

    What category of archetecture is this?

    Assuming you're not talking about the bat... it's got some Romanesque Revival in it but basically it's an early, functional Modernist skyscraper.

  • robc||

    Rhywun,

    I was talking about the bat.

    I think we are swooshing jokes past each other.

  • Vent||

    It's the most awful, Asian -- well, trans-Pacific -- tripe.

  • Mike Laursen||

    What category of archetecture is this?

    Serious answer to your non-serious question: programmatic architecture.

  • Rhywun||

    PS. If you want more insight into the state of architecture today, check out any architect's or architecture firm's website (such as here or here). They are almost universally designed to confound the user and make their blood boil--just like their buildings.

  • Fluffy||

    I know I am returning late to this thread, but I think it's my post that went over your head, Joe. So if there's any whooshing sound around here you're the one hearing it.

    If it's your assertion that a building that is deliberately different from everything around it does so to demonstrate scorn, why would the same not be true for people? After all, the building is the way it is because people designed it.

    This would mean that anyone who is strikingly different from those around them in any way is displaying misanthropy and hostility.

    That would kind of put a damper on the wonder of diversity.

  • ||

    Just think of all the jobs it created! Economic stimulus, collectivist style.

  • TravelBuddy||

    i am not sure if Ryugyong deserves the name the Worst Building in the History of Mankind. i think one has to take under consideration the circumstances around the creation. the "even by Communist standards" quote puzzles me. when compared to The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw or Roads Ministry building in Tbilisi i certainly do not think Ryugyong looks that bad.
    on the other hand, i strongly believe, one cannot judge the building without taking its purpose into account. and as for the hotel.. well, there are superb contenders dasparkhotel in Ottensheim, Hotel Marqués de Riscal and others

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