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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Through the swirl of negotiations between North Korea and its neighbors in recent months and consistent offers of a “bright new economic future” from the U.S., economic sanctions against the DPRK have not been eased and, in fact, have only been strengthened in the past year.
But despite this fact, Pyongyang has over the same period seen the emergence of multiple new major construction projects.
Many of the projects listed below either began or saw major development in the middle of last year, and have continued to see progress so far this summer. The photographs were all provided by NK News sources inside Pyongyang and were taken between May and July.
Ryugyong Hotel Lightwall
The example that stands out the most in Pyongyang is the Ryugyong Hotel, whose facade was recently upgraded with a full color LED light wall. Large curved LED screens were installed at the very top of the building in March, and later in May the lights affixed vertically between window panels were turned on for the first time.
It has been seen displaying alternating solid colors, more abstract multi-colored designs, and even animations and movie scenes. The display appeared to be having technical difficulties in early July and has been intermittently running, but mostly turned off during recent weeks, sources indicated to NK News.
East Pyongyang Hotel and Shopping Mall
Construction of the East Pyongyang Shopping Mall, a once-abandoned project backed by Chinese investors, is underway again, now known as the East Pyongyang Hotel and Shopping Mall.
A new artistic render of the finished site shows a slightly altered design to the seven- or eight-story hotel at the site’s north, appearing more modern than the previous neo-Stalinist design.
The project, originally backed by the Hong Kong-based Great China International Group, is situated near the East Pyongyang Grand Theater and the lights directly north of the Founding of the Workers’ Party Monument.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held in January 2014, but progress largely halted in mid-2016 before work on the hotel resumed in summer 2017.
The new signage was installed after February 2018, but both the hotel and shopping mall appear far from completion as of July. The Hong Kong company’s continued connection is unclear at this time.
New projects near Reunification Monument
Multiple construction projects are also underway surrounding the National Reunification Monument along the Tongil Highway. Satellite images suggest one site situated next to the monument is almost complete, while multiple separate sites have seen major development further south down the highway.
A review of satellite imagery shows clearing work for the newest project (West Tongil Highway project) began in March this year. But as the satellite imagery above shows, a great deal of work was done between mid-May and mid-June.
In the photograph from the ground in June shown above, the foundation and first floor of one building appear to be nearing completion. The site appears active with dozens of workers, but the purpose of the project has yet to be determined.
Work on another project on the east side of the road (East Tongil Highway project) began in 2013 but quickly fizzled out before resuming in 2015 and speeding up in mid-2017 – like many other construction projects in the city.
Construction on the complex of large buildings directly to the west of the Reunification Monument began in late 2014 but slowed in 2016. Work was accelerated in the summer of 2017 and appears to be nearing completion as of July according to the latest satellite imagery.
New project adjacent Ryugyong Supermarket
There is a new large construction project underway along the banks of the Taedong river and directly across the street from the large Singapore-linked Ryugyong Supermarket. Preparation on the riverside patch of land began last November, but progress on the foundation and first floor has taken place since May.
Significant progress appears in satellite imagery from July 7 when compared to the photo of the site from the ground, specifically showing a large circular structure at the corner, suggesting a shape similar to other shopping centers in the city.
Red flags and banners seen in multiple spots at the site reads “Construction Bureau 8 battle site” (8건설국전투장), which is a particular unit that has been mentioned in connection to politically important projects in the past, such as the Ryugyong General Ophthalmic Hospital. A visit by Kim Jong Un to meet and take pictures with the unit was promoted in state media in early 2015.
The project may thus hold more political significance, as these banners and political slogan boards are not present at every construction site across the country. Recent similar examples include the Samjiyon County and the Wonsan-Kalma beach resort construction projects.
New project near satellite center
Work on an additional complex of buildings near North Korea’s General Satellite Control Center in northern Pyongyang began in mid-2017 as with much of the other projects in the city, and early progress was documented by NK News in March-dated photos from the ground.
A new photo shows continued activity at the construction site with dozens of workers visible, but the facades of the two large block buildings in the photos appear similar.
Like the project across from the Tongil Market area, this site is covered in large political slogan boards and red flags. The particular unit named in a red banner at this site is unit 985 (제985군부대전투장). Kim Jong Il inspected the Command of KPA Unit 985 just before his death in October 2011, which did not at the time mention any link between the military unit and construction projects.
Workers in the photos from the site both recently and in March appear in soldier’s uniforms, while workers at the riverside site from “Construction Bureau 8” appear in orange hardhats and work uniforms.
Chongchun Street Sports Village dormitory
Where a small park once stood situated between two gymnasiums in the Chongchun Street Sports Village in west Pyongyang is now a new building of at least ten stories nearing frame completion. According to a source in Pyongyang, the building will be a dormitory for use by visitors to the sports village.
The park was only first built in late 2013 along with renovations to other buildings in the complex, but this was cleared in September 2017 and work began on the foundation for the dormitory soon after, according to satellite imagery.
Stalled major high-rise project near Kim Il Sung Square
But while Pyongyang is seeing numerous new major construction projects simultaneously underway, others are seeing extended neglect. The most significant example is of a complex of large high-rise apartment buildings directly surrounding Kim Il Sung Square – one of the busiest areas of town.
Most of the buildings have received near-complete paint jobs, but, notably, the first few floors of those remain as bare concrete.
While workers were spotted in the building sites in April, the bottom floors still appeared in the same unfinished state as was evident in October 2017 Google Earth satellite images shown above.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News