Barriers hide government buildings from high-rise apartment dwellers in Pyongyang

Mirae Scientists Street
Mirae Scientists Street. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities have installed barriers on the windows of verandas in some high-rise apartments in Pyongyang to prevent residents from peering down at important government buildings.

“The authorities have blocked apartment windows [on specific buildings] to prevent them from viewing important government agencies in the city,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

“Officials from what was probably the Ministry of State Security (MSS) began installing the barriers on the apartments with cement two years ago.”

Headquarters of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers' Party
Headquarters of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party in Pyongyang. Image: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool

The barriers may be intended to prevent apartment residents from taking photos of important government buildings which could then be leaked outside the country. The authorities are also trying to prevent anyone from looking down at the buildings, which include the headquarters of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

Important government buildings are generally only three to five stories tall. The authorities likely faced difficulties blocking all the windows of the surrounding taller buildings, and have just elected to barricade the windows of specific high-rise buildings where photos could be taken from a variety of angles.

All of the country’s major government buildings are located in Pyongyang’s Jung (Central) District, and the installation of barricades has been confined to the district.

Satellite imagery of Pyongyang's Central District
Satellite imagery of Pyongyang’s Central District. Image: Google Earth

The North Korean authorities are taking extraordinary measures to prevent information from escaping or entering the country. Officials consider the leakage of any information regarding major government agencies “an act of espionage.”

Alek Sigley, an Australian student studying at Kim Il Sung University, was arrested and later released by North Korean officials on July 4 on suspicion of espionage.

North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA said on July 6 that Sigley had “at the instigation of the NK News and other anti-DPRK media he handed over several times the data and photos he collected and analyzed while combing Pyongyang by making use of the identity card of a foreign student.”

NK News and Sigley released respective statements rejecting these accusations.

These cement barriers have drastically reduced apartment prices where they’ve been installed and some donju (nouveau riche; in this case apartment owners) have lost a lot of money. The barriers have reduced the amount of natural light the apartments receive, blocking any views from their windows, and negatively impacting the aesthetics of the buildings.

“Each apartment should normally go for around 20,000 USD, but now they are going for just 7,000 USD,” a separate source in Pyongyang reported. “Donju who own five or six of these apartments have lost a lot of money.”

After looking at an apartment with the barrier installed, a donju asked the source rhetorically, “Who would want to live in such a cave-like place?”