As long as there have been buildings mankind has sought to construct its way to the heavens. From stone pyramids to steel skyscrapers, successive generations of designers have devised ever more innovative ways to push the vertical boundaries of architecture. Whether stone or steel, however, each attempt to reach unprecedented heights has represented a vast undertaking in terms of both materials and labor – and the more complex the project, the greater the chance for things to go awry.
Pyongyang: The Latest Architecture and News
White Elephants: Over-Budget, Unsuccessful, and Embarrassing Architecture Projects From Around the World
Not every piece of architecture can be an economic and social success. But there is one dreaded term reserved for only the mot wasteful of projects: "white elephants." The term comes from a story of the kings of Siam, now Thailand, who would reportedly gift sacred albino elephants to courtiers they didn't like. Refusing the gift from the king would have been unacceptable, but being sacred, these animals were forbidden from work, leading the courtier to financial ruin—a fact the kings knew all too well.
Of course, in architecture the term "white elephant" is used frequently to disparage certain projects, and whether a project is deserving of such infamy is usually a matter of perspective. Often eyesores or reminders of poorly spent funds, these projects refuse to be forgotten despite few wanting to remember them. Dotted around the world and across history, they all have the same thing in common: although they may (or may not) have once looked good on paper, they probably should have just stayed on paper.
North Korea is one of the few countries still under communist rule, and probably the most isolated and unknown worldwide. This is a result of the philosophy of Juche – a political system based on national self-reliance which was partly influenced by principles of Marxism and Leninism.
In recent years though, the country has loosened its restrictions on tourism, allowing access to a limited number of visitors. With his personal photo series “North Korea – Vintage Socialist Architecture,” French photographer Raphael Olivier reports on Pyongyang’s largely unseen architectural heritage. ArchDaily interviewed Olivier about the project, the architecture he captured, and what he understood of North Korea’s architecture and way of life.
Architecture is propaganda. Throughout my two years of visiting and living in North Korea the country slowly revealed to me the details of this evolved and refined tool for totalitarian control of the country’s population. The West views the country with incredulity—surely this cannot be a functioning country where people lead “everyday lives?” Surely the country’s populace can’t possibly buy into this regime? But I assure you that they do. People have careers, they go to work on the bus, and those women crying over the death of their leader were doing so through their own initiative, if not out of genuine emotion. How is this possible? This is a carefully constructed regime which has, at its heart, an unprecedented understanding of how architecture and urbanism can influence and control people. Coming second only to the military on the list of party priorities, the design of the built environment has had an incalculable effect on reinforcing the ideologies of the North Korean regime and conveying these to the people.
Witness the urban life of five stunning metropolises through the lens of Rob Whitworth with these "Vimeo Staff Pick" hyperlapse videos. From the unexplored urban life of the North Korean capital Pyongyang to the towering skyline of Dubai, each video explores an incredible sequence of daily living in cities across the planet. See more, including video from Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai, after the break.