Pyongyang was destroyed during the Korean War and has been entirely rebuilt according to a design reflecting Kim Il-sung's vision. His dream was reportedly to create a capital that would boost morale in the post-war years. The result was a city with wide, tree-lined boulevards and public buildings with terraced landscaping, mosaics and decorated ceilings. Its Russian-style architecture makes it reminiscent of a Siberian city during winter snowfall, although edifices of traditional Korean design somewhat soften this perception. In summer, it is notable for its rivers, willow trees, flowers and parkland.
The streets are laid out in a north-south, east-west grid, giving the city an orderly appearance. North Korean leaders aimed for self-sufficient urban neighbourhoods throughout the entire country, and Pyongyang is no exception. Its inhabitants are mostly divided into administrative units of 5,000 to 6,000 people (dong). These units all have similar sets of amenities including a food store, a barber shop, a tailor, a public bathhouse, a post office, a clinic, a library and others. Many residents occupy high-rise apartment buildings. One of Kim Il-sung's priorities while designing Pyongyang was to limit the population. Authorities maintain a restrictive regime of movement into the city, making it atypical of East Asia as it is silent, uncrowded and spacious.
Structures in Pyongyang are divided into three major architectural categories: monuments, buildings with traditional Korean motifs and high-rises. Some of North Korea's most recognisable landmarks are monuments, like the Juche Tower, the Arch of Triumph and the Mansu Hill Grand Monument. The first of them is a 170-meter granite spire symbolizing the Juche ideology. It was completed in 1982 and contains 25,550 granite blocks, one for each day of Kim Il-sung's life up to that point. The most prominent building on Pyongyang's skyline is Ryugyong Hotel, the seventh highest building in the world terms of floor count, the tallest unoccupied building in the world,and one of the tallest hotels in the world. It just recently opened after decades of delays.
High-rise apartment buildings dominate the cityscape. The government launched a mass construction campaign aiming to build 100,000 new homes in 2011. The Changjon Street Apartment Complex was part of this effort. Construction of the complex began after late leader Kim Jong-il reportedly described the area as "pitiful". Other housing complexes are being upgraded as well, but most are still poorly insulated while elevators and central heating remain rare. These new buildings foresaw the start of an urban renewal program that continues under Kim Jong-un's leadership, with the old apartments of the 1970s and '80s now replaced by new, taller high rise buildings and new leisure parks like the Kaesong Youth Park, as well as renovations of older buildings.
Full North Korea trip report: