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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
An enormous animated LED light wall has been added to what appears to be an entire side of the iconic 105-floor Ryugyong hotel building in Pyongyang, mid-May photos seen by NK News show.
The addition of the light wall – which photos showed alternating between a bar pattern and full illumination – comes after an LED display featuring a North Korean flag was added to the top of the building in early April.
Because the animated flag display was added to all three sides of the structure at the top of the pyramid-shaped building, it’s likely the LED light wall will also be fitted to all three sides of the building.
Despite its installation, the animated flag has been lit inconsistently since first appearing, a resident of Pyongyang told NK News, and was not illuminated at the time the new wall-lighting appeared.
Until now, however, there have been no public clues surrounding North Korea’s intentions for recent works on the decades-old unfinished building.
But the combination of the illuminated roof cone and fully lighted building sides should make the enormous building visible miles outside the city at night.
Notably, street-level photos obtained of the building dated mid-April and obtained by NK News appear to show light-wall cabling being installed down the sides of the building, suggesting efforts to illuminate the wall sections now date several weeks back.
Two laborers can even be seen in the same picture scaling up a central column of the building – possibly in order to affix the white-colored lighting cables.
And new signs of construction can also be seen in the entrance area to the hotel in the earlier April-dated photos, with scaffolds visibly supporting unspecified works there.
“It looks like they are really getting on with construction of the hotel’s interior as there are boxes that look like air conditioning units on the outside all the way up the main center shaft,” said an informed source about ongoing efforts at the site in April.
The addition of the LED wall, display and construction in the lobby area all come after a flurry of other minor construction activities observed at the building in recent months.
Two access jetties were asphalted and connected to an entrance area of the hotel, January-dated photos published by NK News showed.
And an entrance wall which had for years blocked access to the jetties was removed last July, a move which came after a new apartment was raised adjacent to the same access area.
Meanwhile, a separate photo from last September showed lights on in a room near the top of the tower: roughly the same spot in which three rooms appeared illuminated by night in an NK News video shot in October 2016.
That video was notable because there had been no sign of construction or occupancy at the iconic structure since window panes and a telecommunications mast had been installed in 2011.
Several rumors about what precisely the construction indicators are for have recently emerged.
The location of the animated flag display, for example, appears to be in the same section of the unfinished hotel which sources previously told NK News may one-day house revolving restaurants.
Another source familiar with Pyongyang, meanwhile, said some North Korean officials have been told their offices could be moved to the building in future.
After glazing had been added to the building structure by 2011, the only other major development at the site was the addition of the jetty structure around 2013.
Orascom, the Egyptian majority shareholder of North Korea’s Koryolink cellphone network, was obliged to add window panes to the concrete structure as part of its deal to enter the DPRK telecommunications sector in 2008.
While Orascom was suspected of having spent millions on the building to get it fully-glazed by 2011, photos released by the Beijing-based Koryo Tours agency showed in 2012 that the structure was still empty, without fixtures or furnishings visible.
And though luxury hotel company Kempinski announced in 2012 that it would be opening a small hotel at the top of the building, it pulled out in early 2013, telling NK News at the time that “market entry is not currently possible”.
DPRK officials previously claimed the building would eventually contain the country’s premier restaurants, hotel accommodation, apartments, and business facilities.
Featured image: NK News