For North Koreans, architecture is a reflection of their society, so the changes in development are said to provide the outside world a lens into the political and economic state of the country. Having inherited the reigns of the isolated nation, Kim Jong Un has decided to put a flashier face forward when it comes to the future of the Communist country's built environment. Some would argue that this shift is purely cosmetic and have only superficial significance. That opinion is based on the behind the scenes status of the industry: material usage is still limited to concrete with rebar, there is no public recognition of individual architects as their work "belongs to the people," and the source of labor is the military and youth "shock brigade."

Many North Korean architects actually study in Europe, upon returning home, they are traditionally unable to flex their acquired technical muscles in their home country due to a lack of funding. That might be changing. Singapore-based architect Calvin Chua says that the pace of development in North Korea has drastically increased since 2008. Aesthetically, North Korea appears to be catching up with the rest of the world too. As a figurative reminder to avoid that optimistic opinion is the Ryugyong Hotel. "Despite all the construction taking place, one project Kim has yet to complete is the massive, pyramidal [hotel]," writes the Los Angeles Times' Julie Maniken. “The 105-story concrete colossus, begun in 1987, has been called the ‘worst building in the history of mankind’ by Esquire and ‘a luxury hotel designed for Mordor’ by the Lonely Planet. It still looms unoccupied over the city.”

Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times.

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