Three months to the day after Kim Jong Un broke ground on a major project to build 10,000 apartments in Pyongyang in a year, commercial satellite imagery shows the new buildings are rising fast.
At the construction site in Sadong District in the southern part of Pyongyang, 34 high-rise apartments are already several stories high, and the foundations for more buildings are under construction. The work is part of an overall plan, decided on at the Eighth Party Congress in January, to add 50,000 residences in Pyongyang by 2025, in time for the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Additionally, a smaller project is also underway alongside the Pothong River in Pyongyang’s Central District and is progressing at a similar pace.
The majority of the 10,000 new planned apartments are being built in the Sadong District. At that site, there are multiple high-rise buildings under rapid construction on previously vacant land. Plans for the site, revealed at the groundbreaking ceremony, show most of the buildings will be about 20-30 stories, with one close to the entrance of the site towering around 50 stories.
Figure 1. Overview of Sadong District development site.
Figure 2. Close-up of Sadong District construction site.
Like other recent North Korean apartments, the architects have opted away from the normal rectangular blocks and have chosen more interesting designs. Several of the more prominent buildings on the site are curved away or towards the central street. Others are more rectangular in shape but have roof profiles that rise at one end and sides that curve.
Figure 3. Curved building and roof designs observed.
A render of the project previously published by state media shows low-rise buildings in between some of the high-rise structures, and the initial levels of these buildings are also visible.
Figure 4. Mix of low- and high-rise buildings incorporated.
As a national project, state media regularly mentions the construction work in news bulletins, but images of the actual buildings have been few and far between.
On June 14, Korean Central Television (KCTV) carried a report from the work site that featured local residents and workers talking about the speed of the construction, but it carefully shot each scene to avoid showing the buildings under construction. The story did indicate that work is taking place at the site during day and night, as has been reported for previous important construction projects in the country.
Figure 5. Images broadcast on KCTV on June 14 were carefully framed to avoid showing the buildings under construction.
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External construction on some of the buildings appears nearly finished, and state media has reported that interior plastering is already underway. On June 13, state radio announced that youth shock brigade members were planning a competition to accelerate plastering work.
Pothong River Apartments
At the second construction site, numerous low-rise apartment buildings are already visible. This project is much smaller in size and scope than the one in Sadong District but is situated in a prime Pyongyang location. The area is opposite the Mansudae Assembly Hall and Russian Embassy compound and close to the Pyongyang No.1 Primary and Middle Schools.
Each building appears to be five to 10 stories high. Some are built into a sloping hillside on the northwest side of the plot looking out over the Pothong River.
Trucks are visible throughout the site, and the sizeable construction camp on the riverbed remains in place. Eight residential buildings at the southern end of the plot have been retained.
Figure 6. Overview of Pothong River development site.
Figure 7. Construction progress at Pothong River apartments.
Getting sufficient, high-quality construction materials to meet the fast pace of construction demanded by the Workers’ Party has been a common struggle during recent projects. The Pyongyang General Hospital and the Wonsan Kalma Coastal Tourism Area, both major projects at one time, had reported similar material shortages and supporting efforts from around the country. In those cases, both sites remain unopen, and work appears to have halted.
At the Sadong District site, managers are apparently faced with an insufficient supply of iron and steel, according to state media following a visit to the site by North Korean Premier Kim Tok Hun on June 11.
During the visit, he urged workers to “increase the operation rate of construction equipment to the maximum,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The report also noted, “The field consultative meeting underlined the need for the metallurgical industry to increase production of iron and steel needed for the construction, urging other relevant sectors to give top priority to supply of materials and equipment.”
Most of the iron and steel used in North Korea is domestically produced, but the process is energy-intensive, and the entire economy is showing signs of strain caused by a combination of sanctions and the self-imposed border closure that has been ongoing for more than a year.
Kim Jong Un recognized the project might face challenges during his speech at the groundbreaking.
“To tell the truth, to undertake this large-scale project in the circumstances of today, when the challenges and difficulties are harsher than ever before, is something beyond imagination,” state media reported.
“Construction of 10[,]000 flats this year is to be conducted in the circumstances completely different from when we started building Ryomyong Street five years ago; worse still, we have to do in a short time the amount of work many times larger than that of those days,” Kim added.
To help this effort, North Korean media has also been reporting how state-run enterprises, such as the Sangwon Cement Complex and Hamhung Youth Electric Appliances Factory, are increasing production to pitch in.
If the target of building 50,000 apartments over the next five years is to be realized, creating a steady and sustainable flow of materials will be critical to the project’s success.
See: “Pak Pong Ju Inspects Pyongyang General Hospital under Construction,” KCNA, July 8, 2020; and “Kim Jong Un Inspects Construction Site of Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area,” KCNA, May 26, 2018.
“Kim Tok Hun Inspects Construction Sites of 10 000 Flats in Pyongyang City,” KCNA, June 11, 2021.
“Let Us Renovate Our Capital City Splendidly Once Again by Building 50 000 Flats, Rodong Sinmun, March 24, 2021.