First Instagram, now this: An architecture and planning firm in Hong Kong has reportedly been chosen to turn a military airstrip in North Korea into a £130 million international airport. The plans show two donut-shaped terminals that — if built — could contribute to what some are describing as a tiny-but-not-imperceptible North Korean economic boom.
The plans show the transformation of a former military airport in Kangwon Province — near Mount Kumgang Tourism Zone, a region of Kangwon where South Korean tourists have been allowed to visit intermittently since 2002 — into a large commercial hub called Wonsan International Airport. According to the South China Morning Post, the design by Hong Kong architects PLT was confirmed by Kim Jong-un himself — who was apparently so psyched about them that he ordered Pyongyang's airport be revamped, so as not to look shabby next to Wonsan.
The renderings for the hub are surprisingly restrained for a country where architecture is wielded as a tool of state propaganda. They show two 36,000-square-foot oval terminals (one for international, one for domestic) that can each accommodate six planes. Exactly how each terminal is laid out isn't clear, but each seems to consist of a subterranean floor where departures happen, topped off by a larger arrival and commercial core (the hollow areas offer outdoor green space). According to PLT, the donuts were inspired by traditional Korean drums — though they look distinctly reminiscent of Virgin Galactic's spaceport, too.
Otto Cheng Ping-lun, the lead planner at PLT, had the following to say about the decision:
My partner was invited [to fly to North Korea] on a private jet provided by the investor. Of course, they had to leave their mobile phones in the airport before entering the country... We were told that Kim was happy with our design. However, Kim said the airport in the capital should not look worse than the one in the economic zone. That's why we were also asked to upgrade the airport in Pyongyang.
So now PLT is taking on two major construction projects in a country whose GDP barely tops £20 billion. As far as the plans go, these designs aren't all that ostentatious. Wonsan is designed to host roughly a million passengers every year. That's a lot for the most isolated country on the planet, but it's still less than 1.5 per cent of the traffic Heathrow sees every year.
Still, with current tourism levels where they are (read: nearly nil), this plan could be read as a sign that North Korea is set to relax their strict rules about foreign visitors. Or, you know, it could be read as a wildly speculative piece of spin. At the very least, the floor plan sends an encouraging message. [South China Morning Post]