The hotel rises to a height of 330 metres (1,080 ft), and it contains 360,000 square metres (3,900,000 sq ft) of floor space, making it the most prominent feature of the city's skyline and by far the largest structure in North Korea. Construction of the Ryugyong was intended to be completed in time for the World Festival of Youth and Students in June 1989; had this been achieved, it would have become the world's tallest hotel. The unfinished structure was not surpassed in height by another hotel until the completion of construction on the Rose Tower in Dubai, UAE in 2009. The Ryugyong is currently the world's 30th tallest building, a title it shares with the China World Trade Center Tower III.
The plan for a large hotel was reportedly a Cold War response to the completion of the world's tallest hotel, the Westin Stamford Hotel in Singapore, in 1986 by a South Korean company, SsangYong Group. North Korean leadership envisioned the project as a channel for Western investors to step into the marketplace. A firm, the Ryugyong Hotel Investment and Management Co., was established to attract a hoped-for US$230 million in foreign investment. A representative for the North Korean government promised relaxed oversight, saying, "The foreign investors can even operate casinos, nightclubs or Japanese lounges if they want to." North Korean construction firm Baikdoosan Architects & Engineers (also known as Baekdu Mountain Architects and Engineers) began construction on a pyramid-shaped hotel in 1987.
The hotel was scheduled to open in June 1989 for the World Festival of Youth and Students, but problems with building methods and materials delayed completion. Had it opened on schedule, it would have surpassed the Westin Stamford Hotel to become the world's tallest hotel, and been ranked the seventh-tallest building in the world.
In 1992, after the building had reached its full architectural height, work was halted due to a lack of funds amid electricity and food shortages. Japanese newspapers estimated the cost of construction was US$750 million, consuming 2 percent of North Korea’s GDP.
In a 2006 article, ABC News questioned whether North Korea had sufficient raw materials or energy for such a massive project. A North Korean government official told the Los Angeles Times in 2008 that construction was not completed "because [North Korea] ran out of money". A decade after the start of construction, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea delegated an inspection of the building, where it was concluded that the structure was "".
International media reaction
After construction came to a halt in 1992, the unfinished building sat vacant and without windows, fixtures, or fittings, appearing as a massive concrete shell. A rusting construction crane at the top, which the BBC called "a reminder of the totalitarian state's thwarted ambition", became a permanent fixture.
Even though the Ryugyong dominates the Pyongyang skyline, official information regarding the hotel and its status have proven difficult to obtain. Though mocked-up images of the completed hotel had once appeared on North Korean stamps, the government denied the building's existence for many years, manipulated official photographs in order to remove the structure, and excluding it from printed maps of Pyongyang. Former CNN international correspondent Mike Chinoy likened the policy to the matter of a calcium deposit on the neck of longtime dictator Kim Il-sung, which was "never photographed... something you couldn't mention." The alleged problems associated with the hotel led some media sources to dub it "The Worst Building in the World", "Hotel of Doom" and "Phantom Hotel".
In April 2008, after 16 years of inactivity, foreign visitors to Pyongyang reported that Egypt's Orascom Group had started refurbishing the hotel's top floors. Glass paneling and telecommunications antennas were observed being installed. The Orascom Telecom subsidiary confirmed involvement in the structure's construction, as part of the development of a GSM mobile telephony infrastructure in North Korea for up to 100,000 initial subscribers. While Orascom denies that the company's exclusive access to the North Korean telecom market is directly linked to the completion of the hotel, it is seen as an act which "builds good with the people," as the company cannot engage in corporate sponsorship in North Korea.
In 2008, an official with the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries told the Los Angeles Times that the refurbishing of the Ryugyong Hotel would be completed by 2012, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the birth of "Eternal President" Kim Il Sung. An Orascom official indicated that the goal of the refurbishment was to facelift the structure's facade and make it more visually appealing. On December 22, 2008, photographic evidence of the restarting of construction on the hotel appeared on the Internet. The photos revealed that work had begun to enclose the upper floors in glass. In August 2009, photos appeared showing at least one side of the hotel completely clad in glass, along with the completion of the outside covering of the upper floors. Work on the building's exterior is expected to last until the end of 2010, at which point it will be safe to begin interior work, which will last until 2012 or beyond, according to Orascom chief operating officer Khaled Bichara. The completed Ryugyong will be divided among hotel accommodation, apartments and business facilities.
The Ryugyong Hotel consist of three wings, each measuring 100 metres (330 ft) long, 18 metres (59 ft) wide, and sloped at a 75-degree angle, which converge at a common point to form a pinnacle. The building is topped by a truncated cone 40 metres (130 ft) wide, consisting of eight floors that are intended to rotate, topped by a further six static floors; the structure was intended to house five revolving restaurants. The hotel is surrounded by a number of pavilions, gardens, and terraces. The hotel was to contain 3,000 guest rooms, or 7,665 according to some sources.
The building is constructed from reinforced concrete, and is covered in mirrored glass. Questions have been raised regarding the quality of the building's concrete and the alignment of its elevator shafts, which some sources say are "".