Cliffs of blue mirror glass plunge towards a waterfall, as space-age hoverships dock on glistening conical towers. Buildings shaped like spinning-tops nestle between lush mountainsides, connected by ski slopes, while a glass bubble train snakes through the valley. These could be scenes from a Dan Dare comic, showing the holiday hideouts of the Mekon and his chums. In fact, they are rare glimpses of how North Korean architects imagine their future.
“We gave them a completely open brief to dream up designs for what tourism might be like in their country,” says Nick Bonner, the Beijing-based curator and tour operator who commissioned the paintings, which are currently on show in the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale (which won the Golden Lion for best pavilion). “We asked them to go crazy, to see what they would come up with given absolutely no constraints.”
One scene shows plans for the Silk Co-operative, a high-tech, low-energy artisans’ commune, with circular buildings modelled on traditional Korean spinning wheels and wrapped in blue solar panels. In between these mirrored discs stand towers topped with wind-turbines-cum-helipads, rising above a watery landscape.
“The tourist benefits from being in the company of artisans, and the ability to learn new skills or just indulge in the beauty of the area,” write the architects. “They can travel by river, solar-train, or helicopter, then go on mountain walks.” It is a lavish dream in a country where transport is still limited and freedom of movement severely restricted. Despite the high-tech appearance of this new community, its architects are also keen to point out that the construction “uses natural stone, not concrete” – a strange claim, explained only by the fact that the country has yet to embrace reinforced steel.