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How Communist-Era Buildings Inspired Wes Anderson’s Masterpiece – Part 3

Daniel Kim Views  

A photo of Apartments in Kwangbok Street, Pyongyang, built for the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students, from Instagram @ollywainwright

Oliver Wainwright, an architectural critic and professional photographer, has contributed architectural critiques to The Guardian since 2012. In 2015, he published Inside North Korea, which included over 200 photos he had taken during his visit to Pyongyang. His book states that Kim Jong Un has turned Pyongyang into a place that conjures up fantasy by erecting impressive buildings in line with the slogan Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland. When Oliver Wainwright visited, Pyongyang was filled with construction work noise. As a result, the images of Pyongyang captured by Oliver Wainwright show pastel pink houses, just like in the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Noting this, South Korea also held a photo exhibition of architecture in Pyongyang from October 4 to October 19, 2018, where Oliver Wainwright’s works were displayed.

A photo of the Students and Children’s Palace contributed by Oliver Wainwright to The Guardian

When Oliver Wainwright visited Pyongyang, he reported seeing Soviet-style concrete buildings and pastel panoramas. These Soviet-style buildings were constructed during the reigns of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, while millennial pink and other pastel-toned buildings became popular during Kim Jong Un’s rule. The architects of North Korea at the time were educated in the Soviet Union and reflected this in their work in Pyongyang. However, North Korea does not consider these buildings to mimic the Soviet Union but rather as a product of their Juche ideology.

The exterior of Wonsan Orphanage (Picture=JESS TRAVELS)

It reminds the concept of a theater state, as discussed by Haruki Wada. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz introduced the concept of theater state by motioning the ancient Balinese state of Negara and its politics of ritual. Through this concept, he interpreted the ceremonies conducted in Bali, Indonesia, as a power structure and a system of governance beyond mere ritual ones. Haruki Wada considered that the theater state concept also exists in North Korea, suggesting, unlike other authoritarian regimes, North Korea’s charisma and ability to sustain power, escaping from the mortal tendency of power so far across generations via its arts and mass ceremonies. If architecture is considered a part of art, North Korea’s flamboyantly decorated buildings provide political education for its citizens, showcasing power while facilitating control. The flamboyant pastel-toned exterior of the North Korean architecture conveys its desired image to be shown to other countries. However, the freedom seen by the guests of the pink building from The Grand Budapest Hotel and the openness to entrust the hotel to an immigrant remains a distant future for North Korea. One hopes that someday, North Koreans can utilize their architectural spaces freely.

To Read Part 1…
To Read Part 2…

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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