A residential block under construction in the North Korean capital has recently been spotted featuring what appears to be a model apartment, a move observers said may speak to changing trends in the country’s real estate market.
The property, located in downtown Pyongyang, appears to be fitted with a showroom-style apartment on its sixth floor, potentially allowing prospective flat-hunters the chance to view their properties before they are completed.
Real estate in the North Korean capital has seen something of a boom under Kim Jong Un’s leadership, with a series of marquee street construction projects opening in 2015 and 2017 and high-rise apartment blocks popping up across the city.
That boom has even seen construction permitted in previously off-limits parts of town, including in the area surrounding the centrally-located Kim Il Sung square.
Despite this, international sanctions seem to have taken a toll on the industry, with prices having reportedly plummeted following the failed DPRK-U.S. summit in Hanoi in February.
The model apartment photo spoke to these contradictions, one expert said, revealing a burgeoning market but one likely highly-restricted to the capital.
“This is an interesting innovation likely designed to help sell flats before apartment blocks are finished,” Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focusing on the North Korean economy, told NK News.
“This speaks to an industry growing in sophistication, but also potentially to a lack of capital to finance apartment construction which necessitates the sale of flats well before construction has finished.”
Likely aimed at the North Korean capital’s increasingly cash-rich middle classes, the showcase apartment also ties into an increasingly taste-sensitive consumer goods industry in the DPRK.
Recent trade fairs in the country, for example, have revealed a growing domestic interest in interior design and high-end household electronics.
“The presence of a model apartment seems to demonstrate some innovation the real estate sector,” Calvin Chua, an architect who regularly visits the DPRK with the Choson Exchange NGO, told NK News.
“In terms of design, the emphasis is shifting from the scale of the neighborhood (for example, Tongil Street with a similar buildings replicated throughout the neighborhood) to the scale of the building (for example, Mirae Street with the collection of individually designed towers) and now to the scale of the apartment,” he added.
“This seems to suggest that public taste is taken into account when designing these buildings.”
Also possible, Chua said, is that the building’s developers are “testing the facade and showing future residents how the building would look like,” he said.
Another photo obtained by NK News of another Pyongyang construction project, visible above, suggests such a process also be underway — with paint seen added to the side of the building.
A photo of a construction site near Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel earlier in the year obtained by NK News also featured decorative trimmings on the building’s facade, suggesting another showcase apartment may have been present or that local workers were trying out different façades.
Also a possibility is that the mock-up apartment is designed to provide temporary accommodation while the building is under construction.
But while frequent travelers to the North Korean capital often note how common it is to see locals living in unfinished residential projects, one observer said “this looks a bit too luxurious to be happening in this case.”
“I’ve seen plenty of incomplete buildings that have people already living in them,” Simon Cockerell, General Manager at Koryo Tours, said.
“That’s normal, but nothing quite like this.”
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: NK News