The “Architectural and Cultural Guide of Pyongyang” is an amazing book written by Philip Meuser, a German architect. Both the author and the book offer an impressive, yet rare glimpse inside the world’s most secretive and intriguing country of North Korea.
Philip Meuser offered an interview for Dwell. He told the reporter Aaron Britt that the motivation that drove him to write the book, was that the place he was talking about cannot be visited. So, it is quite fascinating and stimulating creating a guide book with impressive pictures and details about something people will have the chance to see only in photographs. It is a one of a kind publication with the purpose to demonstrate that both Pyongyang and North Korea are real.
The Americans and probably the rest of the world see these places as virtual. The author compares them with Google Street View. This special program allows you to visit places all over the globe, but your visit is virtual, because you never leave the room and the computer. It’s the same with North Korea. This place exists, people can see images of it, but no one can get there to see it for real.
Meuser also declared that following the Korean War, most of the Pyongyang was destroyed. For this reason, its landmarks and buildings were reconstructed within the last 60 years. They are interpretations and representations of the old Korean architecture, but they are still impressive and spectacular.
The book comes in 2 volumes. The first volume features a photographic gallery of the North Korean capital city and its buildings. The structures are divided into the most important architectural categories: monuments, urban planning, transport infrastructure, residential buildings, department stores / hotels, sport and education, and cultural venues. Only some parts of the interiors are shown, but readers can see all the exteriors. The buildings are constructed in the spirit of North Korean communist ideology.
So, there are no artistic features, fine materials and elegant details. Instead, people can see gross architectural styles and forms which are equally impressive since they cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The author says that the architecture in North Korea is either monumental (symbolic structures, commemorative structures or statues) or functional (government buildings or apartment buildings). The second volume includes illustrated essays about the Pyongyang architecture.
Some of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in North Korea and Pyongyang are the government buildings situated in Kim II Sung Square, a place for rallies and military parades, the Red Torch on the Juche Tower, the Grand Monument and Kim II Sung’s bronze statue on Mansu Hill, the Grand People’s Study House, and the Party Foundation Monument. Other points of interest are the Arch of Reunification, the Yongwang subway station (opened to foreigners), the Arch of Triumph, Koryo Hotel (one of the tallest buildings in Pyongyang), the ice rink in Pyongyang (that has about 6000 seats), the Mansudae Assembly Hall, the Pyongyang Circus ( with over 3,500 seats), and the Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace.