Ever wondered what it must be like to live in a North Korean apartment block? It’s something worth considering, given that they might be blown off the planet in a gust of Trumpian hubris, any day now.
Well, our spies tell us it’s just like living here – only 50 years ago, when the world was beige. Actually, to be fair, it’s more like 33 years ago – in 1984, to be precise.
What’s missing if they really wanted to be authentic is the obligatory speaker, churning out endless reminders of how lucky North Koreans are while we impoverished Westerners can barely scrape two noodles together as we are crushed under the hand-tooled jackboots of rich Americans.
Don’t laugh, there’s probably one in your flat too – a speaker, that is, not a jack-booted American. More on that later.
So how do we imagine North Koreans live? Better than you might think. Pyongyang Sallim is an exhibition of South Korean Architects’ version of a ‘typical’ North Korean apartment, on public display as part of the inaugural Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
There are similarities with where you are sitting right now. They have chairs.
Apartment dwellers who can remember the seventies might even feel a tinge of nostalgia at the decor and furnishings. My mum would have approved, although she’d have covered those floorboards with a nice floral carpet.
But it’s the modern touches that make it seem almost like our own homes. The flat screen tv. No, it’s not smart and it’s tuned to government approved stations only – but still. They even have solar panels on their balconies. Try getting that past your body corporate.
Speaking of which, if you live in a modern Australian apartment, you will have a speaker built into the walls or ceiling which carries fire alarms and warns you of tests and other important matters that everyone in the building needs to know – like “the lifts have just gone Third World on us so don’t leave the building if you live above the third floor and you’re planning to come home in the next hour or so.”
The North Korean apartment speaker can never be turned off and it broadcasts government announcements and propaganda, although whether this is constant or occasional, nobody outside the hermit kingdom can say for certain.
I know there are some of you out there thinking it can only be a matter of time before you are forced to listen to podcasts of your strata committee meetings followed by progress reports on your Glorious Leader’s five-year plan and a celebration of a record harvest from the communal garden.
Back to Pyongyang, how much does this cost? Well, your average North Korean apartment with cold running water (you’re not likely to have hot) occasional sufficient electricity to run the lift (so nobody lives above the 20th floor) and intranet connection that doesn’t connect to the world wide web costs… nothing.
So that’s no stamp duty, no mortgage, no rent, no body corporate fees. Not feeling so smug anymore, huh?
Also free to hard working privileged people who toe the party line – literally when they do their formation marching – are public transport, healthcare, cars, TV sets and computers. Occasionally a newly built apartment block will collapse but at least it’s not under the weight of cheap Chinese combustible cladding.
Yeah, but did I mention how unreliable their electricity is so they need solar panels on their balconies because the grid can’t provide enough base load? Could never happen here… oh wait a minute – let me get back to you on that.
If it all seems too good to be true, you may be right . These South Korean architects may be wildly over estimating what is average.
Here is some actual rare vision from CNN inside a real North Korean apartment. The ‘North Korean’ apartment in Seoul is packed with furniture compared to a more typical worker’s home.
So really, this show apartment is very much the Pyongyang equivalent of your luxury penthouse, not your bog-standard stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap chicken coop.
If North Korea had rock stars, this is where they would live. Maybe your mortgage is worth it after all!