[KS] Pyongyang city features and plans

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Sat Sep 15 17:50:15 EDT 2012

Just a note about the two-volume architecture guide of P'yŏngyang that 
Professor Clark introduced--it is available in German and English (same 

I accidentally stumbled over that a few months ago, and it was a 
refreshing read. To me this is one of the few examples where--not too 
sure how to best phrase that ... where the lack of a background in 
"Korean Studies" per se was all for the benefit of the work. The many 
references made about North Korean architecture in the various works on 
North Korea, anything really from histories and general guides to 
political studies, are often nonchanlantly dismissing all post-North 
Korean War architecture as Stalinist, totalitarian, or otherwise 
nothing but a pure reflection of North Korea's one man regime. The 
one-to-one equation of political system and built or planned 
architecture, however, is nothing but an outdated myth that had been a 
helpful tool for manipulation during the Cold War era in dealing with 
the fascist past in Europe and the then present Communist states. It's 
truly time to move on: architects could never do much with such 
constructs in the first place, and it were very rarely architects 
themselves making such statements or believing in them. The mentioned 
book (or better, the volume with essays) does certainly not provide any 
sort of theoretical discussion in dealing with this dilemma--the 
dilimma of a widely accepted but diluted basic concept that stops us 
from better understanding and describing the country's architecture, 
where on the world map to put North Korea's and other socialist state's 
architectural production. But the book simply is valuable because 
it--as an intended or unintended "countermeasure"--ignores most of the 
general wisdoms on totalitarian architecture, strange North Korean 
politics, etc., and just deals with architecture in the framework of 
international movements (as architects usually do). In that very sense 
I am happy such a work, however short, is now out there.

Best regards,

On Sat, 15 Sep 2012 14:53:52 -0500, Donald Clark wrote:
> Regarding Pyongyang architecture (and I hope I didn't miss earlier
> posts where this might have been discussed already), I recently
> stumbled on a two-volume set entitled "Architectural and Cultural
> Guide: Pyongyang" edited by Philipp Meuser and published by DOM
> Publishers, available for less than 40 bucks from Amazon.  The first
> volume is basically a translated and updated version of a good North
> Korean city guide. The second volume is a marvelous collection of
> essays and interpretations placing Pyongyang in the context of world
> architectural history, presenting it as the fulfillment of visions by
> the great planners of the twentieth century. Both volumes are
> wonderfully illustrated with color photographs.
>      Like others I am grateful to Chris Springer for his works on the
> reconstructed city.  This collection illuminates some of the same
> things, going farther in discussions about interesting (and sometimes
> appalling) features of the city: the great boulevards and districts
> with their Potemkin apartments, the state monuments and gargantua, the
> historic sites, athletic facilities, public spaces, palaces, and not
> least the Ryugyong Hotel from concept to partial completion. Mention
> is made of the MAK museum exhibit in Vienna and controversies
> surrounding it, among many other familiar topics. The essays in Vol 2
> are especially rich reading for anyone who has had a quick visit or
> two to Pyongyang and didn't get to see absolutely everything or the
> grand designs that are expressed in the architecture.
> Don
> -- 
> Donald N. Clark, Ph.D.
> Murchison Professor of History and
>     Co-director of East Asian Studies at Trinity (EAST)
> Trinity University, One Trinity Place,  San Antonio, TX 78212 USA
> +1 (210) 999-7629;  Fax +1 (210) 999-8334
> http://www.trinity.edu/departments/history/html/faculty/donald_clark.htm

Frank Hoffmann

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list