Commercial satellite imagery indicates the first step in North Korea’s grand plan to build 50,000 apartments in Pyongyang over the next five years is nearing completion. External construction work on a major housing development in the city’s Sadong District, launched by Kim Jong Un almost a year ago, appears to be done, although the continued presence of workers’ housing indicates interior work continues. A second, smaller and more exclusive housing development closer to the center of Pyongyang also appears close to competition.
It is unclear whether these housing complexes are fully finished or not. However, Kim Jong Un has signaled that he wants to see people moving into the apartments in the run-up to the Day of the Sun on April 15, commemorating Kim Il Sung’s 110th birthday. North Korea typically highlights industrial and economic successes during such anniversaries, and these projects are expected to play a central role in this year’s propaganda.
In addition to these two projects, two additional housing projects are underway in Pyongyang. The Taephyong area project in the west of the city has received much less media attention, although apartment buildings have been rising there for several months. In February this year, Kim Jong Un launched a major development north of the city.
Figure 1. Overview of Pyongyang construction projects.
Sadong District Apartments
Increasing housing in Pyongyang is one of Kim Jong Un’s key initiatives. On March 23, 2021, at the groundbreaking of the Sadong project, he promised the new apartments would help provide “more cultured and stabler living conditions” and more recently said the 50,000-apartment plan is “the most important promise” made to Pyongyang residents by the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Initial progress at the Sadong development was swift. Within two weeks of the ground breaking, the foundations of several large apartment buildings could be seen in satellite imagery. Three months into the work, 34 apartment buildings were already rising, including one intended to be around 50 stories high. By June 2021, plans appeared to have changed, and by February 2022, a Korean Central Television (KCTV) video of the site showed the tower around 80 stories high, making it the second tallest building in the country after the unfinished Ryugyong Hotel.
Figure 2. Images of the Sadong District development broadcast on Korean Central Television on February 1, 2022.
Figure 3. The Sadong District apartment project.
In imagery from February 25, the site appears to be closed to traffic, but all heavy construction machinery and equipment have departed. The exterior of the buildings appears complete, and landscaping has been done along the central avenue that intersects the development.
Curves and circles are central to the design of the complex, which features several curved apartment buildings throughout. At the southern end of the development, there is a separate complex with what appears to be a main building and several large buildings around an open courtyard. The purpose of this area is unclear, but it could be on-site school grounds.
Figure 4. The Sadong District apartment project and possible on-site school grounds.
In initial renderings of the project, a large, circular pedestrian overpass sat at the center of the site. Satellite imagery shows the footings for this but not the overpass itself. A lack of construction equipment around the area might mean construction has been canceled or delayed.
To the south of the site, several huts for temporary workers are still present, indicating work likely continues on the interior of the buildings.
Figure 5. The Sadong District development.
Pothong Riverside Terraced Residential District
This smaller development was started by Kim Jong Un just a few days after the Sadong District project and is a redevelopment of a central Pyongyang plot close to the Russian Embassy compound and Mansudae Assembly Hall.
The February 25 image shows streets around the project are still closed to traffic, but all of the temporary workers’ housing has been removed. In February, KCTV showed a video of Kim Jong Un visiting the project and inspecting a finished apartment. The unit had modern stylings and a balcony that overlooked the adjacent Pothong River.
Figure 6. Kim Jong Un inspecting an apartment at the Pothong River development in footage broadcast on Korean Central Television on February 1, 2022.
The development is markedly different from those currently taking place elsewhere in Pyongyang. The site is smaller, more central and the buildings are only a few stories high. Kim Jong Un has also made several visits to the site during its construction, which is more than has been reported for the other sites.
Figure 7. The Pothong Riverside terraced resident district.
Taephyong Area Housing
On the west side of the city, a smaller development of what appears to be several apartment buildings has been underway since mid-2021. The site has received much less media attention, and no visits by Kim Jong Un have been reported although Premier Kim Tok Hun has inspected the site. Several large apartment buildings, some featuring the same curved design seen in the Sadong District, can be seen rising.
Figure 8. Apartment construction in Taephyong area.
Hwasong Area Development
The latest major apartment project was inaugurated by Kim Jong Un on February 12 in the Hwasong area to the north of Pyongyang. The site will be the next to house 10,000 apartments.
Work at the site has been of similar pace to what was seen in the Sadong District, and foundations for the new buildings are already beginning to appear less than a month after groundbreaking.
Figure 9. The Hwasong area construction project.
Figure 10. The Hwasong area construction project.
“Let Us Renovate Our Capital City Splendidly Once Again by Building 50 000 Flats,” Rodong Sinmun, March 24, 2021.
“Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Speech at Ground-breaking Ceremony for Construction of 10 000 Flats in Hwasong Area,” KCNA, February 13, 2022.
See: “Let Us Renovate Our Capital City Splendidly Once Again by Building 50 000 Flats,” Rodong Sinmun; and Ibid.