Ben Masterton-Smith, recipient of the inaugural RIBA Norman Foster Traveling Scholarship in 2007, visited North Korea for a period of architectural and spatial research. One of the many outcomes of that trip was Ben’s diploma project, part of which proposed a farcical realization of a 7-mile rainbow reportedly seen on the occasion of Kim Jong-il‘s birth.
Truckloads of vinyl are delivered to the capital city; teams of “volunteers” pump vast amounts of air into the unfolding structures—the imperial inflatable as architectural type; and, lo, the titanic pink and purple form ascends to its nostalgic place in the public firmament, assembled ring by ring across the sky.
While I have cherry-picked only one aspect of Ben’s overall North Korean research project, and thus this might seem like a bit of a one-note flute, I have to say that the absurdly over-the-top scale of the proposal actually seems spot-on for an architectural critique of Kim Jong-il’s surreal stage-managing of North Korean life.
In many ways, this spatial realization of the state’s own ridiculous mythology serves as a sadly necessary—because totally delirious—over-compensation for the otherwise monumentally vacuous cityscapes of North Korean urbanism, as if the grotesque political spectacle of a pink rainbow soaring seven miles over the city might retroactively justify that city’s empty stagecraft.
In the annals of dictatorial natural history—where, apparently, “even nature is mourning” the death of Kim Jong-il—the tongue-in-cheek architectural manifestation of an otherwise impossible worldly phenomena acts not as celebration but as spatial parody. It is sarcasm, we might say, given architectural form.
In any case, a few more images from the project are available on Ben’s Flickr page.