Costly design in Pyongyang

Kim Jong Un at site of new Pyongyang airport terminal. (DPRK official website)

Kim Jong Un at site of new Pyongyang airport terminal. (DPRK official website)

It appears that the architect of Terminal 2 of North Korea’s international airport, Ma Won Chun, was executed because the Dear Leader failed to appreciate the design. This according to “Kim Jong Un EXECUTES airport architect because he did not like the design,” by Steve White in the Mirror.

The other day Kim and his wife toured the new facility, expected to open this week. Not many people probably noticed the absence of the architect from Kim’s entourage. Ma was executed last November as part of a larger purge for “corrupt practices and failure to follow orders.” Here is a statement that contains Kim’s indictment of the design:

“Defects were manifested in the last phase of the construction of the Terminal 2 because the designers failed to bear in mind the party’s idea of architectural beauty that is the life and soul and core in architecture to preserve the character and national identity,” Kim said, according to NKNews’ transcript of a state media report.

This is not especially chilling only because it is North Korea. Who knows why the guy really had to hang at the end of a rope (or got a bullet in the base of the neck)? It is not the way architects, not even celebrity modernists, usually die in civilized nations.

Imagine if architects here could be executed for “failing to bear in mind the party’s idea of architectural beauty.” Who would “the party” be? The AIA?

In most countries, including America, architects would be at wit’s end to figure out how to avoid execution. They would have to rely on the ability of the “jury” to look deeply into the architect’s ego and measure his zeal to reach the apogee of novelty, rather than judging him according to some culturally determined and generally explicable set of design rules. Pity his lawyer! Figuring out a useful defense strategy for a modernist would be no easier than trying to figure out a rationale for the latest Pritzker Prize selection.

So, while most Americans would probably draw their fingers across their necks to signal their assignment of fate to the architects of their built environment, let us hope it never comes to pass literally, as it seems to have done in Pyongyang.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to Costly design in Pyongyang

  1. Intriguing idea. Having recently endured the petulant “show me something and I’ll tell you whether I like it” ambiguous aesthetic sensibilities of one of our resident modernists, holding architects accountable for crimes against the environment would seem a good place to start.
    Ritual murder of the architect is, of course, fundamental to Freemasonry. So mote it be…


  2. solayinkas says:

    Reblogged this on Peculiar Mess and commented:
    Now, your design may cost your life.


  3. Peter Van Erp says:

    Terminal 2 at Sunan is a typical corporatist mediocre mid level airport, with the usual “amenities” of shopping at (North Korean imitations of) trans national chain stores, vast expanses of glass, and easy access for the few cars in NK. I can think of many worse architectural crimes….


    • GTECH at Waterplace, for one. Terminal 2 is just another ugly building in an ugly place. GTECH ruined a beautiful place for no good reason. What was the name of its architect? Please don’t tell me.


  4. Steven Semes says:

    And then there was Apollodorus, executed on orders of Hadrian for criticizing the Emperor’s design.


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