Oliver Wainwright in North Korea – Pyongyang interiors & bizarre colors

Oliver Wainwright - National Drama Theatre, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – National Drama Theatre, Pyongyang

Kitsch and retro interiors in North Korea

Oliver Wainwright North Korean Interiors documents the unique architecture and the interiors of various regions of North Korea and its capital Pyongyang. Not many photographers get the opportunity to explore this isolated country owing to its closed state; however, Wainwright took the opportunity and ran with it. The interiors that he documented were very kitsch and retro as they were originally created to adorn important theaters and buildings that were designed during the Soviet era.

What Oliver Wainwright discovered in North Korea

When Wainwright first visited Pyongyang on a 10-day tour, a large part of him expected to see dilapidated buildings that had been affected by years of decline and decay. However, he discovered that the city was characterized by old buildings yet; however, they were modern and bedecked by the most unexpected bright and colorful hues.

Wainwright managed to document the most fascinating techniques and designs in architecture; many of the buildings were designed to symbolize the culture and the attitudes of the people at that time. For instance, the Pyongyang Ice Rink is shaped like a skater’s cap while the gym at Chongchun Sports Street is shaped to resemble a pair of dumbbells.

Oliver Wainwright – Conference Room, Pyongyang, 2015
Oliver Wainwright – Conference Room, Pyongyang, 2015

The North Korean government & their plans for tourism

According to Wainwright, this was part of the government’s effort to transform the country into the next most popular tourist destination1. By 2020, the government expects to draw in more than 2 new million visitors2.

The evolution of North Korea’s architecture

During the Cold War, North Korean architecture underwent a revolution to produce unique designs. According to Wainwright, the color craze started about 10 years ago because according to historical evidence, photographs of the same buildings were not as colorful in the 1990s. Many of the buildings that Wainwright encountered were newly painted; the marble mosaics were replaced by new and shiny materials such as vinyl. In general, the colors have transformed North Korea into one large socialist dreamland3.

Video: Oliver Wainwright speaks about his visits to North Korea

46min 50sec
From 11min 10sec

Conclusion

The colorful buildings demonstrate the political atmosphere in North Korea; all aspects of tourism are very controlled where nothing spontaneous or unexpected is ever allowed to occur. It appears as though all the colorful buildings, though impressive, were staged for photography.

Interior photos – Pyongyang

Oliver Wainwright - Grand People’s Study House, Pyongyang, 1982
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang San Hotel, Pyongyang, 1982, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Kim Jong Suk Creche, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – Kim Jong Suk Creche, Pyongyang, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - National Drama Theatre, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – National Drama Theatre, Pyongyang, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Pyongyang Diplomatic Club
Oliver Wainwright – Pyongyang Diplomatic Club, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Pyongyang Diplomatic Club
Oliver Wainwright – Pyongyang Diplomatic Club, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang San Hotel, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang San Hotel, Pyongyang, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang San Hotel, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang San Hotel, Pyongyang, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014)
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, Pyongyang
Oliver Wainwright – Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, 1989 (renovated 2014), 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Yanggakdo International Hotel, Pyongyang, 1995
Oliver Wainwright – Yanggakdo International Hotel, Pyongyang, 1995, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86, 2015
Oliver Wainwright - Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86
Oliver Wainwright – Changgwang Health and Recreation Complex, Pyongyang, 1981-86, 2015

All images by Oliver Wainwright unless otherwise noted.

 

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Related readings
  1. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-northkorea-usa-economy/kims-top-aides-on-economic-tour-as-north-korea-looks-to-vietnam-model-idUKKCN1QG1HW
  2. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/north-korea/articles/North-Korea-hopes-to-welcome-2-million-tourists/
  3. https://publicdelivery.org/eddo-hartmann-pyongyang-north-korea/

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