Rules of Engagement

Ryugyong Hotel: Rules of Engagement for a Monument Waiting to Happen

Pyonang, KR
Type: Research

Commissioned by Domus magazine

  • Project by Shumon Basar and Markus Miessen

1. Prologue

Being on the 'Axis of Evil' equates North Korea with 'pariah' status. For now. Today's pariah state is tomorrow's heroic paradigm of ideological resistance. What is considered to be the expression of demotic / fanatical / oppressive sovereign state functioning for one side of the world appeals to the spirit of renegade rebelliousness to the others. But how will future history view the turning of the axis?

2. Ideological Tourism

Pilgrimages to holy sites, such as reliquaries or scriptural places, were the original ideological tourist packages. Today, thousands visit Marx's grave in North London, the superficial leftovers of the Berlin Wall, or the ossified cultural code of Cuba. Speedier nostalgia has turned the relatively recent into a distant heroic epoch: cherished and lost. Such is our appetite for the 20th century. It isn't too wild to predict that Ideological Tourism will be one of the major growth sectors in the 21st century.

3. Cause-less Monument

The Ryugyong Hotel is an accidental quasi-monument. It possesses the traits that monuments since the dawn of history have possessed - such as Scale, Recognisability, Permanence, Singularity - yet it misses the most critical aspect to make it function as a monument: a subject to dedicate it to. If the Ryugyong Hotel is to re-assert itself >from the ghostly slumber of the past decades, it must do so by fulfilling its emergent desire – to become a monument to the socio-cultural imagination that put it up in the first place.

4. Rules of Engagement

Ideological tourism is like war: they both need rules of engagement. For the soldier, it may be the Geneva Convention or International Human Rights. For the tourist, the monument - that denotes the particular ideology - requires the visitor to be at an optimum distant so that the monument can be taken in as a perceptual whole, and thus, have its symbolic innards project outwards.

4i. The Rules of Rules of Engagement

Visitors to the Ryugyong Monument must either only perceive it from a distance where the whole is viewable or from its summit: the medium distance - as found to be the case at the Pyramids at Giza - destroys the myth of the monument by making it too 'real'. A monument's captivating scale is either as an object to behold from a distance, or, as a thing to ascend and elevate to. Nothing in-between.

--Pre-fabricated lift attached to the outside of the Ryugyong Monument to allow visitors to ascend to the top.
--Introduce new material cladding to the viewing platform (gold leaf, for example) to neutralize the unfinished character of the current concrete exterior.
--The circulation throughout the Monument will be highly scripted. Certain areas will only be opened on Ideologically Significant days of the year, ensuring the monument has layers of symbolic capital in its skin.

5. Monument Network

Ryugyong Monument becomes one of a network of monuments put up across the world to defunct ideologies. They are vocalised through the architectural personification of their times. Tatlin, Ferris, Boulee, I M Pei, Speer: all are re-visited and re-modeled with the loving care of a waxwork model executed at the scale of the city. In centuries, when yesterday becomes the deep distance of an irrecuperable past, each of these ideologies will be able to persist, with all the erroneous misinterpretations and fetishes that monuments promise to deliver as they mutate through time.