The 'worst building in the world' rises again

Its brazen outline has towered over Pyongyang for more than two decades. Sitting empty and unfinished, the Ryugyong Hotel is regarded as an example of communist folly. It has variously been called "the hotel of doom" and "the worst building in the world".

Endless building problems and a shortage of money meant the hotel was never finished and became a source of acute embarrassment for North Korea's leaders. But 22 years after the first brick was laid, work has restarted and an end could be in sight.

Officials want to finish the building by April 15, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the democratic people's republic.

The 105-storey hotel was started in 1987 during his rule and originally scheduled to be completed in June 1989. But work was dogged by endless problems and stopped when funds ran out in 1993.

For 16 years, the skeleton of the building dominated the city, with authorities unwilling to tear it down but equally unable to finance further work.

Shaped like a three-sided pyramid, the building was designed to have 3000 rooms and seven revolving restaurants in a 45-metre circular structure near the pinnacle. But the windows were never put in and a crane has stood rusting on top of the pinnacle for 16 years.

It was reported that whenever foreign dignitaries were in the city, lights would go on and off in random windows of the hotel, to make it appear inhabited.

The cost of the project at 1980s prices was estimated at $A880 million - about 2 per cent of North Korea's GDP at the time.

Despite the loss of face that failure to complete the tower entailed, gross mismanagement of the economy meant that the regime had little choice but to mothball the project.

That was until an Egyptian telecom company saw potential in the North Korean market. In mid-2008, the Orascom Group began work to assess the state of the building and refurbish some of the upper floors.

The company's telecom unit has signed a $US400 million ($A435 million) deal granting it the rights to develop advanced mobile phone infrastructure in North Korea for an initial 100,000 subscribers - all of whom are members of the Government. In return, work is apparently under way inside the structure ahead of the April 2012 deadline.

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