Futuristic new tower unveiled in Pyongyang

Even though Pyongyang shows its ambition towards science and technology development, the underlying purposes and reality remain unclear (Image: Rodong Sinmun)

A futuristic new tower unveiled in Pyongyang symbolizes the regime’s ambitions in science and technology, but whether actual capability goes beyond aspirational architecture remains to be seen.

According to Rodong Sinmun, the Mirae (future) Symbol Tower incorporates designs representing the nucleus and electron orbitals. Twenty-one meters high, it symbolizes the government’s plan for scientific prowess and rapid development.

Landmarks such as the Mirae Scientists Street, where the tower is located, as well as the Sci-Tech Complex along the Daedong River, and the Wisong Scientists Residential District have become iconic features of the capital city. 

Pyongyang’s transformation into a city of science and technology is seen as part of Kim Jong-un’s new goal to elevate North Korea into an economic powerhouse.

“The Mirae Scientists Street Symbol Tower, rising in the center of the main thoroughfare at the entrance of the street, powerfully demonstrates the party’s unwavering determination to strengthen the foundations of socialism through science and to advance socialism with the locomotive of science, in an artistic manner,” the Rodong Sinmun reported.

The Mirae (future) inscribed on the tower represents the determination of scientists and educators to carve out the future and the blue color symbolizes rapid progress, according to an official from the Pyongyang Urban Design Research Institute quoted in the piece.

Outsiders, however, cautioned that the architecture may not represent more will than capability. 

“Architecture serves to carry the party’s message,” said a defector in South Korea who studied architecture in Paris. “It is not that North Korea has achieved a particular breakthrough in science and technology, but rather, it is expressing its will to do so.”

Science and technology have in fact been emphasized for decades since the rule of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, the defector said. “It seems that Kim Jong-un intends to continue this legacy in order to bring about change.”

Kim Jong-un has emphasized the need to prioritize science and technology since he took power in 2012. At the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in 2016, he presented a “strong nation of science and technology” as an important goal on the way to building a powerful socialist nation. 

Since then, North Korea has been seeking economic development through innovation in both the basic and industrial sectors of science and technology. 

Initiatives include a biotech focus on gene transfer and recombination, stem cells, growth hormones, antibody development, and supporting agricultural technology. Also, in nanotechnology, the focus is on oxide nanotechnology and industrial applications, as well as the development of nanoparticles and materials. 

In energy, the emphasis is on small- to medium-sized hydropower generation, high-efficiency coal-fired power generation, and alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, along with nuclear power generation. Additionally, the coal sector is focused on underground gasification, coal exploration, and improving mining-related facilities. 

Particularly in the metals and chemicals sector, there is a focus on the development and production of Juche steel, the completion of technology for carbon one chemical industry, and the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Plant.

“Kim’s prioritizing of science and technology is aimed at economic self-reliance,” said Choi Ye-seo, a North Korean sociologist. “It appears that there are some achievements in certain areas. However, it remains to be seen how sustainable these technological innovations will be in the face of ongoing international sanctions and resource shortages.”

Lee Jia

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