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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
Korea Central Television introduced the construction status of the new residential apartment being built in Future Scientists Streets, Pyongyang earlier this week, potentially harkening a new era of “Pyongyang speed” in which stability matters as much as rapidity.
According to NK News research the current exterior of the building was built in about 300 days or possibly less.
Miraculously high-speed construction is nothing new to North Koreans. The term “Pyongyang Speed” was first used in 1958 to commemorate the speedy construction of the Pyongyang in the years following the devastation of the Korean War. From residential buildings in Pyongyang to the Mount Paekdu power station, the term “Pyongyang Speed” is now being widely propagated to emphasize the importance of achieving national growth in shortest time possible. Today, it is in Future Scientists Street in Pyongyang where North Korea’s hunger for economic growth is most vividly shown.
Future Scientists Street is located in the very center of Pyongyang, directly next to Pyongyang Station adjacent to the Taedong River. The street was introduced to the world in September 2014 when KCTV described how the streets were designed to be filled with “high rises that can hold 500 households, a day care center, a kindergarten and various buildings aimed to promote residents’ welfare.”
Earlier this year, the street received attention when the Rodong Sinmun posted a picture of Kim Jong Un flying over Pyongyang to view the street, along with other sites in Pyongyang.
On July 26 the KCTV released rare footage of an ongoing construction site located somewhere on Future Scientists Street. Through a comparison between video footage and Google Earth, NK News could identify the location of the new residential apartment being introduced on KCTV.
According to the footage, the building introduced on KCTV was in close proximity to the “Orange Tower” and “Blue Tower” seen in images captured below.
The only construction site that exists within the range of “Orange Tower” (in the orange circle) and “Blue Tower” (in the blue circle) in the Future Scientists Street was the construction site found in red circle.
Google Earth imagery indicates the construction site in the red circle started some time between September 22 and October 27 of 2014. If construction of the new building started on September 22, the earliest day possible, the number of days for the building to have been constructed and ready for display on national TV as an example of “Pyongyang Speed” was 307 days.
SPEEDY, BUT RELIABLE?
Worries over the integrity of the building being sacrificed for the sake of speed arose in 2014, when one of Pyongyang’s high rises suddenly collapsed, resulting in the loss of few hundred lives. Following reports on the state of Pyongyang’s construction industry showed that the majority of construction work was done by hand, without the help of modern construction tools, with a lack of awareness of safety regulation for workers.
‘It is not right to hastily conclude that ‘Pyongyang Speed’ will necessarily lead to the poor integrity of the building’
Despite the collapse of the Pyongyang building in 2014, a construction engineering professor, on condition of anonymity, said that “Pyongyang Speed” can be reliable if certain the perquisites are met.
“It is not right to hastily conclude that ‘Pyongyang Speed’ will necessarily lead to the poor integrity of the building,” the professor said, pointing out that the integrity of building is frequently altered by many outside variants, such as the skill of the workers, the quality of materials, support from the government and the money allocated for the entire operation.
“Should the prerequisites be met, building one such stable apartment in 300 days is possible,” he said. “To be honest, in the South Korean construction business, building a 30-floor or higher residential building’s exterior in 300 days is not the hardest thing to do.”
He also mentioned that, despite the building being near – less than 100 meters – from the Taedong River, the compound grounds would be solid if proper territorial consolidation skills were used to harden the ground.
A comparison of images between Pyongyang’s construction sites in 2014 and 2015 shows major improvements in building alignment.
“We are building in high speed as well as following the proper construction methods. The residential apartment we are building is progressing as high-quality work,” the KCTV newscaster said Sunday. While this announcement may be North Korea’s usual rhetoric, the mere mention of the balance between building speed, proper construction methods and high-quality products shows that the approach to “Pyongyang Speed” may have changed recently.
“It’s the first time for me to see North Korea emphasizing something more than just speed and rapid achievement,” said Kim Byeong-uk from the North Korea Development Institute. “If the construction was for some amusement facilities, they would still emphasize speed only. But as North Korea lost hundreds of lives over a poorly built building, Kim Jong Un might have felt the need to change the nation’s priorities.”
Lee Yu-jin from Korea Development Bank said likewise.
“I am seeing similar readings in North Korea’s economic fields. Before 2014, North Korea wanted nothing but speed for rapid economic achievement,” Lee said.
“But many readings show that they have learnt that sacrificing stability and proper procedures for speed does not help the North Korean economy at all,” she said, mentioning that North Korea is feeling a dire need to follow international standards and set proper examples to promote investment from foreign sources.
“It is surprising to see many aspects of North Korea’s national management, including in the construction business, are showing signs of change,” said Lee.
Main image: Uriminzokkiri