Satellite imagery and tourist photos taken in August and September have revealed the rapid manner in which North Korean authorities have rebuilt an apartment block that collapsed in Pyongyang earlier this year.
The photos, which show a new building standing at almost the same height as a 23 floor apartment block which collapsed in May 2013, raise fresh concerns about building safety in Pyongyang, despite pledges towards increased safety made by Kim Jong Un following May’s accident.
Yet despite uncharacteristically admitting to construction quality problems as the cause of the May 13 building collapse, the latest photos and satellite imagery suggest North Korean authorities are working to complete the building as quickly as possible, possibly at the expense of safety.
“Similarities in the two above-ground structures would seem to imply they are simply replicating the complete design again, as a three month build implies a zero lead time,” one engineering expert told NK News, who wished to remain anonymous due to not being authorized to speak to media.
Curtis Melvin, a researcher that specializes in analyzing satellite imagery of North Korea, also questioned the safety of the new building.
“It is clear they replaced it with another residential building that appears to have been built in the same quick fashion that led to the previous building’s collapse,” Melvin told NK News.
Satellite imagery analyzed by Melvin dated July 4 showed evidence of North Korean reconstruction at the site of the building collapse less than two months after the original accident occurred, possibly even weeks prior due to their being no earlier public satellite imagery available.
And photos more recently taken by tourists from the Juche Tower, a towering monument in central Pyongyang, show the replacement building’s core to have been almost fully raised as early as August 15, with little additional height added by September 9.
Such rapid construction, following the breakneck four day clean up of the previous structure, could mean that foundations for the new building may not have been properly built, an issue that may risk medium to long term structural instability.
“Whilst the above ground structure was demolished and removed, the below ground structure probably remains intact,” the engineering specialist told NK News, alluding to the extremely rapid cleanup of an estimated 5,000 ton + rubble from the previous building.
“To build a new building, one would normally expect new foundations. For safety reasons, digging out a foundation for a 20+ story building is sensitive – particularly given the proximity of surrounding buildings,” the expert continued. “The below ground structure would need time to get right.”
KOREAN SPEED QUALITIES
The rapid reconstruction of the collapsed apartment comes as Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday that part of a 38 story building being built in Pyongyang had recently collapsed, killing at least one person, apparently due to problems with a crane.
That accident furthers concerns about the state of the North Korean building industry, especially relating to structures ordered built prior to the death of Kim Jong Il, ostensibly in order to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung’s birth in 2012.
Concerns about the quality of DPRK constructions come amid a broader trend of speed campaigns in North Korea’s building industry, campaigns that some observers previously suggested to NK News could mean corners being cut.
Prof. John Nolan, former President of the London-based Institution of Structural Engineers, told NK News in May that pictures highlighting close-up details of North Korean construction techniques were “truly shocking”.
“Quality control appears to be an alien concept,” said Nolan. “If this is a genuine example of the general standard of high rise construction in North Korea, it is no surprise to me that the [recent] collapse occurred and there is a serious risk that it will not be an isolated incident”.
North Korean media has long focused on speed, with Rodong Sinmun editorials published this summer highlighting “militant slogans put up by the Workers’ Party of Korea” that included: “Let’s outpace the world at Korean speed!” and “Let’s race against time, creating the Korean speed!”
Main picture: Bansaup Photography, Flickr
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