Published as translated essay in Collectivize: Essays on the Political Economy of Territory, Vol. 2, Marc Angélil and Rainer Hehl, eds. (Berlin: Ruby Press, 2013), pp. 97-‐120. ISBN 978-‐3-‐944074-‐03-‐0
Ordering Social Relations: Ideology and Collectivity in the Case of Pyongyang Arno Brandlhuber, Christian Posthofen translated from German by Cary Siress “[…] The Leader of the working class introduces a revolutionary idea of architecture by reflecting the varied architectural demands and aspirations of the masses, integrating and systematizing them. His architectural vision originates from an absolute vantage with respect to the masses. As such, it becomes an unconditional guiding principle to which architects must adhere […] They serve as a powerful theoretical and practical weapon for achieving success through architectural creation. […] The Juche-‐inspired idea of architecture is a human-‐centered conception of design based on the fundamental philosophical worldview of Juche. It is an architectural doctrine that fully satisfies mass demands for leading independent and creative lives in relation to the built world. […] Monumental structures are the most stirring and lasting means of conveying the leader’s achievements and upholding his greatness for prosperity. Monuments remain with mankind forever and are therefore active in their ideological effects on collective consciousness regardless of social progress and generational transitions. […] These grand monuments present an epic picture of the path of glorious struggle […] and thus actively contribute to educating the people to be communist revolutionaries in the true spirit of Juche philosophy.” Kim Jong Il, “On Architecture”1 Communal interactions are characterized by part to whole relationships or, more abstractly, by relations between the particular and the general. The dialectic of particular and general determines collective, socio-‐psychological symbols that organize groups, communities, if not entire cities and societies as well. For architectural sociology, the dialectic nature of communal interactions pertains to the ordering of social relations through built form. The citation above from Kim Jong Il’s treatise “On Architecture” bears precisely on the relationship between social order and the built environment; the ideological moment of architecture is
Kim Jong Il, “On Architecture,” in Kim Jong Il: Selected Works 11, January-July 1991, (Pyongyang: Foreign Language Publishing House, 2006), pp. 127-132. Gleaned from various propaganda passages glorifying the “Great Leader,” the resulting text (“text cited above” or “the resulting volume”) was aimed to steer the function of ideology in North Korean architecture theory.
recognized as principle, and is so deployed to systematically enforce interests of the ruling power. By decree, the architect in North Korea is a “theoretical and practical weapon” of the state. Buildings are erected to bind mass desire to the revolutionary achievements of North Korea’s unique Juche ideology, while serving simultaneously to glorify the personification of Kim Il Sung as the country’s “Eternal President” and to ensure permanent affiliation with the great Leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s single ruling party exercises pervasive control over social order; the North Korean populace is indoctrinated by what, in effect, amounts to a programmed regimentation of collective consciousness. Since social desire is shaped by the governing regime, architecture propagates the prevailing ideology embodied by it. Architecture instills the ruling ideology not only in public opinion, but also in the position of architects and planners themselves, especially given that they serve as de facto proxies of the party. And because design is subjectively driven by desire like any other cultural practice, architects and planners are just as susceptible to ideological conditioning as the rest of the population. Consequently, state ideology actively orders even the presumably impartial objectives of design and planning.2 In this sense, Pyongyang presents an extreme case of a more general, cross-‐cultural aspect of architecture, whereby the subject and the object are drawn together in an emotive bond. Architecture is always framed by collective desire and public perceptions of the surrounding environment. The act of viewing buildings and their settings connects the spectator with a design motif that, in turn, provides the viewer with an effective conduit for channeling projections of desire. These projections are materialized, as so many latently charged meanings of architecture, with built form serving as their material provision and expression. To some extent, architecture is both objective by virtue of its material tangibility and subjective by embodying social desire: it stands in as the concretization of the viewer’s own, albeit conditioned, aspirations. The question then is how are subjects integrated into communities, or better yet, how is it possible for individuals to feel a sense of belonging to a greater collective?
Translator’s note: the terms ‘conditioning’ and ‘indoctrination’ are used in conjunction to convey the sense of the term 2
Vorstellungsorientierung as coined by the authors in the original German text. The term Vorstellungsorientierung addresses the process by which the ruling party of North Korea inculcates the masses and seeks to steer, and ultimately control, the collective imaginary of the nation. The authors use this term to critically interrogate the political and spatial dimensions of this authoritative agenda, and also to identify, where possible, its latent potential for design practices. Vortellungsorientierung—orientating perceptions and imaginations—pertains at once to architecture’s conditioning agency, understood as its influence on social actors through everyday use and experience, and to the top-down instrumentalization of architecture as a political agent of national indoctrination. The term as used in German is meant to encompass the conditioning and indoctrination of all forms of perception, and is thus applicable, in principle, to architecture theory and empirical spatial studies.
Directives aimed at enforcing normative behavior play a significant role in shaping a community insofar as they affect individuals, groups, and operative systems alike. As with behavior, perception is also conditioned by the sway of societal norms, which are just as forceful in cultivating individual values and beliefs as they are in prompting those of a collective. Architecture acts as a normalizing agent of culture. Built form becomes rooted in the collective conscious and thus lays the foundation for a spectating gaze. Regulated practices, such as architecture and urban planning, perform in their own way to shape collective consciousness through behavioral and perceptual conditioning. Ideologies, religions, worldviews, even the market logic of Neoliberalism, are all means of indoctrination. Architecture is also a means of indoctrination. The intrinsic capacity of architecture to condition a social setting is especially obvious in sacred or institutional facilities. Yet architecture’s performative agency is also discernible in less symbolic situations, for instance, in the way that the distribution of public and non-‐public spaces affects human activity or in the way that the spatial organization of ordinary buildings orders experience. Design decisions influence both group and individual interactions. It is therefore insufficient to examine totalitarian indoctrination only through policies enacted by the North Korean state. Architecture’s role must also be critically analyzed because, as a tool of persuasion, it is complicit in social conditioning. The two sides of architecture—its objective, material presence and it subjective, ideological and socializing character – are entangled in Pyongyang to a degree perhaps only possible in a closed society. While the social collective and the crafted environment are arguably still distinct as two separate, but related realms in other cultures, their calculated intertwining is especially clear in the North Korean capital. Take the Kimilsungia as an example: a flower named after Kim Il Sung, the Kimilsungia has been bred in bulk throughout the country and used increasingly since 1975 as an emblem to idolize the “Great Leader.” As a mediating symbol that binds the social to the greater nation, the Kimilsungia flower serves to “naturalize“ power relations and legitimize their staging as collective spectacle.3 The ideological agency of architecture and its indoctrinating impact is so evident and extreme in a closed system like North Korea that it tends to overshadow this aspect of the built environment in western culture—whether with regards to contemporary buildings, especially religious and federal buildings, or architecture’s complicity in historical events such as National Socialism or Stalinism.
See Olaf Nicolai in the preface to “Kim Jong Il, Kimilsungia: Pyongyangstudies IV,” Disko 11, 2008. He states, “The staging of public spectacles encompasses all dimensions, from spatial layout of interiors, to modernist collage of architectural motifs from Pyongang, to the ornamental pageantry of mass dances and public processions.”
Pyongyang is a relevant and worthwhile case study because it recognizes power as a core agency of architecture. Yet, the lessons learned here come with a caveat. As seductive as they are, the spectacular images of mass compliance in the North Korean capital should not blind us to the ideological forces of architecture that shape our own Western forms of socio-‐spatial organizations. Image Captions 01
The two flowers, the Kimilsungia orchid and the Kimjongilia begonia, are used throughout Pyongyang as official emblems of state power. Main boulevard in the center of the North Korean capital.
An annual mass choreographed spectacle to celebrate the birthday of the ”Eternal President” Kim Jong Il, staged during the Arirang-‐Festival in the Rungrado-‐May-‐Day-‐Stadium. As a backdrop to the event, 30,000 school children and students are cued to hold up colored cards in tandem before their faces, producing a human-‐pixel panorama of Pyongyang’s cityscape. In the foreground is a synchronized dance choreography of the Kimilsungia flower. The figures of the dancers and the masked faces forming the urban panorama merge in a unified image that is meant to call forth the timeless spiritual presence of Kim Il Sung. In the guise of a flame, the “holy spirit” descends on the scene from the starry heavens above; the iconography conjures up the solar god worshipped under pharaoh Echnaton, founder of the first monotheistic religion in ancient Egypt, and thereby serves to legitimize the deified status of Kim Il Sung as the apotheosis of all rulers. An image of the monumental, 170-‐meter tall pillar that represents the national Juche ideology is aligned with the sacred “light” from beyond and placed in the center of the urban panorama. Marking the main axis of Pyongyang, the Juche-‐pillar’s twenty-‐meter tall torch receives the divine flame, so to speak, symbolizing an everlasting bond with the mythical universe.
Detail of the composite image formed by 30,000 human-‐pixels during the Arirang-‐Festival. The detail depicts the late ruler Kim Jong Il, who passed away in 2011, as a Kimjongilia begonia. Human bodies are an integral part of North Korea’s state-‐led indoctrination machinery, incorporating as they do the ruling ideology through their mass participation as a collectively conditioned unity.
The Kimilsungia dance choreography depicting the national flower appears repeatedly as an instructional refrain throughout the three-‐hour long performance of North Korean history.
Groups of two dozen North Korean women come together, each forming a Kimilsungia orchid. Waving a bouquet of Kimilsungias, a soldier standing in the middle represents a flower temple. The flower temple is a reference to the revitalizing power of the nation’s military and its “natural” affiliation with Kim Il Sung, the founder of the dynasty.
The birthplace of Kim Il Sung is revered in North Korean state ideology, like a Christian Bethlehem or Islamic Mecca. Although a reconstruction of the original, Kim Il Sung’s house of birth functions, from a psychoanalytical point of view, as a transitional object: All North Koreans attribute special significance to Kim Il Sung’s birthplace because it rewards them with a sanctified relationship with the state. It is therefore a shrine that all North Koreans must visit at least once in their lifetime to share the “therapeutic” promises of national legend. By going on this pilgrimage, North Koreans are indoctrinated into the national myth of North Korea.
Oversized jugs in the courtyard of the birthplace of Kim Il Sung. The poorly made pottery is supposed to simulate the “simplicity” of Kim Il Sung’s childhood home and thereby demonstrate to visitors the ruler’s allegedly modest upbringing as “one of the people.”
Annual flower festival hosted in an exhibition hall specially built for the Kimilsungia Festival, which is held every April to commemorate the birthday of Kim Il Sung. Visitors become part of the show by having their official portrait taken with that of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. In the photograph, visitors are surrounded by a sea of the national flowers named after the country’s two former rulers, the Kimilsungia and the Kimjongilia.
Civilian and military organizations from around North Korea send decorative flower arrangements to the Kimilsungia Festival. The gifts are arranged around a model of Kim Il Sung’s birthplace, similar in spirit to the Christian nativity scene.
“Day of the Sun,” a wintery North Korean “nativity scene” of Kim Il Sung’s birthplace is displayed in front of a dense forest of Kimilsungias.
11-‐12 Pictures of the floral arrangements and the modest, “of the people” pottery are regularly broadcasted as party propaganda on the country’s only state-‐run television channel. 13
A typical billboard in Pyongyang: on the left, an image of the Kimilsungia orchid; in the center, the “blessed” Paektusan mountain that the North Koreans are also obliged to visit at least once a lifetime; and on the right, the Kimjongilia begonia. In the guise of flowers, Kim Il
Sung and Kim Jong Il are omnipresent throughout the city; the nation’s rulers are elevated beyond social critique by being portrayed as the apotheosis of everything “natural” in the world. 14
Entrance to the Paektusan Academy of Architecture in Pyongyang, with a promotional billboard showing the nativity scene of Kim Il Sung, the Juche-‐tower, and the Kimilsungia orchids. The academy serves as the capital’s only architecture and planning office. Architects and planners are sworn into service of the governing regime on their way to work.
The entrance hall of the Architecture Academy is adorned with a large mural depicting the urban panorama of Pyongyang. It is framed by Kimilsungias and Kimjongilias, with the white blossoms scattered in between representing the common folk of North Korea. The ruler Kim Jong Il, who was still in power as recently as 2007, is additionally represented by a real Kimjongilia flower enclosed in a vitrine, simultaneously protected and strategically positioned to “watch over” architects of the state.
One of the many images illustrating the prominent role of design and planning in the overall power structure of North Korea’s ruling regime. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are depicted together as thoroughly engaged in design and planning, with the pointer in the former’s hand to symbolize his competence and power.
17-‐18 deleted 19
The Berlin City Palace, also known in German as the Schlossplatz, in a photograph taken at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Berlin City Palace in the early twentieth century as a complete architectural ensemble, with two courtyards and a dome.
Destruction of the Berlin City Palace during World War II, with the Berlin Cathedral in the background.
Demolition of the Berlin City Palace by the government of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in 1950.
Site cleared of the Berlin City Palace ruins, with Schinkel’s Altes Museum and the Berlin Cathedral in the background.
Model of the DDR’s Palace of the Republic on the cleared site of the Schlossplatz in 1973.
The headlines “The Palace of the Republic is Open” and “The House of the People at Marx-‐ Engels-‐Platz in the Capital” were printed on the first page of the DDR newspaper and central media organ, Neues Deutschland, on April 21, 1976.
One of the many official municipal signs publicizing the Palace of the Republic since German reunification in 1990.
28-‐29 deleted 30-‐31 The old Berlin City Palace returns by way of a rendering in the winning design by Italian architect Franco Stella. 32
The cleared Marx-‐Engels-‐Platz, now re-‐named the Schlossplatz, stands empty while it waits for the construction of the new/old Berlin City Palace to begin. Its successive christenings— from Schlossplatz to Marx-‐Engels-‐Platz and back to Schlossplatz—is in itself evidence of the indoctrinating function of the site and its strategic significance in power relations
The area around the Schlossplatz during the winter of 2010, with a view from the construction site looking toward the Friedrichswerder Church by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Three dummies clad in full-‐scale projections of their future facades form a veritable Potemkin village in the heart of Berlin, concurring with the indoctrinatory influence of architectural settings. On the left is the dummy of Schinkel’s Academy of Architecture. Abused as a mere prop for commercial billboards, the construction hints at the core interest of profitable real-‐estate ventures, which are shared by those Berlin architects involved in building. In the middle is a temporary structure for the Center for the Arts. Clad as the Palace of the Republic, the Arts Center is enlisted as a political delegate and calls attention to the destruction of the Palace of the Republic. On the right is the City Palace-‐clad construction site of the Humboldt Box, which since 2011 has, paradoxically, offered a futuristic venue for the visiting public to view plans for the promised re-‐construction of the original City Palace.
34-‐35 Architecture plays an active role in trans-‐cultural practices of indoctrination. Kim Jong Il’s treatise “On Architecture” presents a set of systematic instructions on how architecture can
be used a political tool to indoctrinate the public by instilling the interests of those in power in the collective perception of our built environment. The time has come to ask ourselves the following questions: Where do we live? Which systems serve to hinder and confine us, and in which architectural or spatial conditions can we recognize such constraints? Two closing images: a billboard in a dreary, pedestrian part of Berlin advertising the new City Palace and another promising a new skyline for the recently constructed ghost town of Ordos in inner Mongolia.