Beijing has erected a dizzying array of striking architectural landmarks in preparation for this month’s Summer Games. Roughly 500 miles east of Beijing, in an aging city in North Korea, a similar attempt to capitalize on Olympic tourism two decades ago met a different end.
Hoping to lure travelers from Seoul, South Korea, who were attending the 1988 Summer Games—while also preparing to host the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students— North Korea reportedly hired a firm called Baikdoosan Architects and Engineers to build a 4-million-square-foot, 3,000-room hotel on a hilltop overlooking the country’s capital, Pyongyang. The 105-story, rocket-shaped building—dubbed Ryugyong, or Capital of Willows—was to be a world-class destination, with luxury suites, casinos and seven revolving restaurants. At 1,082 feet in height, it would have been the tallest single-use hotel in the world, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Some estimates put the project’s cost at $750 million.