Would you visit for flying hotels, ski tubes, and sustainable silk co-operatives?
Architects in North Korea work for the government, have little exposure to the outside world and might go their entire career without receiving a private commission. One notable exception is a young architect who is now part of “Commissions for Utopia,” a series of sci-fi designs for the tourism industry if it ever boomed north of the border. Keep going for aerial hotels, sustainable silk co-operatives, ski slops inside giant tubes, and even a helicopter hotel.
Focused on the theme of eco-tourism, the architects ideas include a silk co-operative with solar-powered water wheels that also draws on wind and water for its daily operation. More outlandish proposals include a “flying house” which would offer people a chance to live inside a helicopter while they explore the country, and dense blocks of conical accommodation that feature ski runs in the pipes between each building.
While some of the designs are extremely retro-futuristic, it’s easy to see how they would work as tourist attractions. It might feel more like a theme park visit rather than a cultural exploration, but in a country where the outside world is almost unknown, these strange ideas might actually be quite normal.
The idea for this particular project came from Nick Bonner, a British-born citizen who trained as a landscape architect before starting one of the only tourist agencies that is allowed inside North Korea. Beijing-based Koryo Tours takes over two thousand tourists into the country every year, and now accounts for more than half of all the foreigners who visit.
He’s convinced tourism will explode one day, an idea he explains to Wired:
As soon as you set eyes on Pyongyang, you realize what an unusual city it is, says Bonner. There are the propaganda posters, the towering public monuments. Beyond that, there’s the terrain: scenic coastlines and mountains that make up some eighty percent of the country.
The illustrations are currently on display at the Venice Biennale alongside other North and South Korean works, which attempt to build bridges not only between the two countries, but also between the isolated North Korean nation and the rest of the world. “There are very limited platforms in which both North and South can communicate and engage,” explains Bonner. “The Venice Biennale showed the opportunities for architecture and design as a common theme.”
Images by Koryo Tours