How North Korea's 'Hotel of Doom' is Celebrating Kim Jong Un's Nuclear Ambitions

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A view of the Pyongyang, North Korea, cityscape, looking toward the Ryugyong Hotel Tower from Yanggakdo Hotel, on August 24, 2015. A construction wall around the hotel area was taken down last week. Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images

A construction site around North Korea's tallest building was taken down last week, unveiling two walkways allowing people in Pyongyang to get closer to the 105-story building known as the Ryugyong Hotel.

Construction on the imposing structure began in 1987. At the time, it was a remarkably ambitious project, and when it reached full architectural height in 1992, it was the only building outside the U.S. to feature more than 100 floors. It wasn't until 2004 that Taiwan's Taipei 101 could claim the same accomplishment.

Spanning 30 years since construction began and three generations of the ruling Kim dynasty, the building has yet to open to the public officially, but the Associated Press reported that a new sign erected on its facade last week proclaimed the beginning of a new era for the country.

"Rocket Power Nation," the white-and-red propaganda banner read, as the latest progress around the building area came while North Korea celebrated its Victory Day, otherwise known as the Korean War armistice day, on July 27, and plotted the second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch in a month—a distinctive feat of Kim Jong Un's time in power.

Vaguely reminiscent of the Shard skyscraper in London and the fictional Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, the building stands out for its size and design among the capital's skyline. At 330 meters (1,080 feet), it will rank among the world's 60 tallest buildings when, or if, it is officially completed.

The first signs that work in the building had quietly resumed appeared in December 2016, when a video obtained by the American-subscription-based NK News website showed lights on two different floors, suggesting the existence of a stable electricity connection to the highest point of the hotel. According to NK News, until then no work had taken place in the building since windowpanes were fitted in 2011.

The regime's original goal was to complete the building in 2012 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the country's "Eternal President" Kim Il-Sung. In September 2012, the Beijing-based Koryo Tours organized the first state-sanctioned visit of the building.

Far from being the epitome of luxury, the building's skeleton stood exposed in all its bareness. The view, however, was still "breathtaking," according to the tour company's own account of the experience.

"The view was incredible and breathtaking indeed! The inside of the building still has substantial work to be done, but the structure of the lobby and dining area and conference room (all on the ground floor) were visible. Sources at the site suggest two or three more years until projected completion at which time hotel rooms, office space and long term rentals will be available," Koryo Tours wrote in a post originally published on September 28, 2012.

The Ryugyong Hotel was originally meant to include 3,000 guest rooms and revolving restaurants, but also apartments, conference halls, and meeting and event rooms. Those plans were reportedly revised and downsized to 150 guest rooms, shops, ballrooms, offices and restaurants.

North Korea had already spent more than $750 million on the project in 2008, but it would have needed an additional $2 billion to complete it, according to South Korean media estimates quoted by Reuters at the time.