cristiano bianchi and kristina drapić document pyongyang, north korea's 'model city'

cristiano bianchi and kristina drapić document pyongyang, north korea's 'model city'

from the ideal cities of the renaissance, to modernist utopias such as brasília or chandigarh, ‘model’ cities have existed throughout history. however, pyongyang, the capital of north korea, is a metropolis like no other. kitsch, colorful, and dramatic, the city’s architecture is often compared to the aesthetic of a wes anderson film, where it is difficult to distinguish between reality and theater. now, a new book by cristiano bianchi and kristina drapić takes readers on a photographic journey through the ‘socialist’ architecture and grand visions of north korea’s secretive capital, which was entirely rebuilt following the korean war.

monument to party founding, axis 1 | main image: kim il sung square, city center
all images © 2019 cristiano bianchi



the publication, titled model city pyongyang, features 200 color illustrations of buildings rarely seen by non-north koreans, as well as diagrams and architectural drawings that reveal the planning behind the city’s elaborate symbolism. the images are complemented by texts from experts on korean architecture — including an excerpt from on architecture by kim jong-il, father of the current leader kim jong-un. alongside their photos, cristiano bianchi and kristina drapić explain the context of each landmark — research which was supported by koryo studio and korea cities federation.

electronics industry hall



fascinated by the city’s built environment, and how its society interacts with it, bianchi and drapić wanted to convey pyongyang’s theatrical and somewhat alien atmosphere. ‘we wanted to capture this feeling of ‘fictional reality’ by following the techniques used by korean artists when depicting the supreme leaders or sacred spaces,’ say the authors in the book’s introduction.

sungri street ‘social condensers’



‘we were fascinated by the striking way in which the sky is represented in art and propaganda — sometimes a simple gradient of colors; sometimes a hyper-saturated sunset or sunrise,’ continue the authors. consequently, the backdrop of each photograph in the book has been replaced with a color gradient, evoking the idealized pastel skies of the country’s propaganda posters.

hazy cityscape



‘model city pyongyang’ presents the city’s architecture in comprehensive detail, from its monumental axes to its symbolic sports halls and experimental housing concepts. accompanying the images, the book’s foreword has been penned by essayist pico iyer, while the publication also features essays from nick bonner and simon cockerell of koryo studio and architecture critic oliver wainwright. ‘model city pyongyang’ is published by the MIT press and is available to purchase online.

central youth hall

pyongyang ice rink

changgwang health complex

may day stadium

may day stadium

mansudae art theatre, somun street

mangyongdae children’s palace

the subterranean monument, yonggwang station

puhung station

mirae scientists street



project info:


name: model city pyongyang
authors: cristiano bianchi and kristina drapić, preface by pico iyer
publisher: the MIT press
format: 224 pp. | hardcover, 8.25 in x 7.25 in, 200 color illus.
ISBN: 9780262043335
price: $29.95 USD
release: october 2019

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