Why North Korea Is Suddenly Fascinated by Swedish Architecture

0
Why North Korea Is Suddenly Fascinated by Swedish Architecture
© Getty Images

Among the world’s most secretive countries, North Korea opens a door to an architecture school in Stockholm

In many respects, Sweden and North Korea couldn’t be more different. On one end of the spectrum, the Nordic country is governed by a democratically elected prime minister, boasts a capital city that’s among the fastest growing in Europe, and is perennially ranked by National Geographic as one of the “Top 10 Happiest Countries in the World.” North Korea, by contrast, is run by a Supreme Leader and keeps its borders firmly closed to most of the world, while the United Nations has created a special commission to investigate potential human rights violations in the country. Yet dissimilar as they may be, Sweden and North Korea just might have found common ground in the unlikeliest of areas: architecture.

Late last fall Kang Yong Dok, the North Korean ambassador to Sweden, requested a meeting with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden’s largest architectural school. The North Koreans were first introduced to KTH through a Swedish architect who helped build ski lifts near Pyongyang. The initial phone call was quickly put through to Per Franson, the dean of architecture at KTH. “I was as shocked as one could be to receive a call from the North Korean ambassador,” says Franson. “But of course, I was more than happy to invite him to our campus and discuss our many programs.”

After arriving on campus, situated in central Stockholm, Ambassador Dok described his country’s wide-ranging interests, everything from KTH’s curriculum and structure to the similarity in their countries’ climates. “I explained how our school is organized, the requirements each student must fulfill, and the great emphasis we place on sustainability by incorporating the concept into each one of our courses,” Franson says. […]