Colourful Propaganda

Giulia Scotto
trans magazine , 2017

After the Japanese occupation, the Second World War and the fratricidal Korean War, the Korean Peninsula was left divided and in ruins. Pyongyang’s reconstruction represented the unusual possibility to realise the socialist urban utopia: a city built from scratches on top of a state-owned ‹tabula rasa›. The predictable result of the initial planning was a very scenographic and monumental city based on a grid of kilometres-long axis, compositions of symmetric buildings facing gigantic squares, huge representations of the Great Leader, colourful blooming parks and a multitude of anonymous housing blocks. The pride of the newly founded Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.), Pyongyang is a city where unauthorized social interactions are prosecutable and where only a few citizens, selected by the Party, are allowed to live. Its empty streets and squares are filled only by marching and idolising groups of soldiers, dancers and kids in uniform. Thanks to one of the most stable dictatorships of the world, Pyongyang can be seen as the materialised evolution of propaganda architecture through the 20th century. The Kim dynasty, which has been ruling the country since 1948, has never underestimated the power of architecture. In 1991 Kim Jong Il published his treatise ‹On Architecture›. Something between an essay and a handbook, where he organised architecture-related topics from the more theoretical to the very practical ones: from aesthetic theories to heating systems construction details. Architecture is described as «the most efficient representative art for the regime, able to give people ideological, aesthetic, cultural and emotional education.» The author, whoever he really is, also acknowledges the essential role of architects in the construction of the socialist society, and warns them against «fame-seeking, formalism, art for art's sake, imitationism and all the other unhealthy creative attitudes that find expression among architects.» Architecture is defined as as a collective art; every building is the result of a cooperative effort under the guidance of the Leader, whose «plans have to be accepted not as orders or duty but as matter of pleasure and honour.» He is the only individual in a country where collectivity comes first. The only name to remember in a country where architects are anonymous.

Mural of Kim Il-sung giving a speech, Pyongyang.
© Giulia Scotto

Keywords:
North Korea, architecture of power, architectural history, Pyongyang, Socialist city

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