Scottish architect in Russian skyscraper row

A row has broken out between a top Scottish architect and a Russian rival over the design of a controversial skyscraper near St Petersburg.

The Lakhta Center  is an 87-story skyscraper currently under construction in the outskirts of Lakhta in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Lakhta Center is an 87-story skyscraper currently under construction in the outskirts of Lakhta in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Members of the design team at Moscow architecture practice Gorproject have threatened legal action against Tony Kettle, the former design director of RMJM and the architect behind the Falkirk Wheel, over claims of “authorship” of the Lakhta Center tower project – the new headquarters of Russian utilities giant Gazprom.

Mr Kettle, who now runs his own practice, the Kettle Collective, worked at RMJM – which at its peak, was in the top ten architecture companies in the world – for more than 20 years. In 2006, RMJM won an international competition to design a headquarters for Gazprom on a different site, which eventually fell through due to public claims that the building would ruin the skyline of the historic city centre. Work on a new design, which became the Lakhta Center, was later begun at another location on the Gulf of Finland.

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The Gorproject designers have now made a formal complaint to architectural bodies the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) over the issue and said that if the Kettle Collective continued to claim ownership of the project, they would consider legal action. The skyscraper tower, which is the 13th-tallest building in the world, was topped out earlier this year after six years under construction.

In the letter originally published by trade paper New Civil Engineer and seen by The Scotsman, the Gorproject team admits that the original Okhta Center design “influenced the architectural language and style” of the final Lakhta design, but said it was “not realised in its original fashion”, particularly due to design concerns relating to its new position on the coast.

The letter, signed by 47 architects including chief architect Philip Nikandrov, who also worked for RMJM between 2007 and 2011, said: “We… the design team of architects of The Lakhta Center Project, are writing to express our deep concern, bewilderment and frustration in respect of persistent attempts of the British architectural studio Kettle Collective Ltd in their public presentations, publications and at their website to claim the exclusive authorship of the design of Lakhta Center Phase 1 project.”

Mr Nikandrov also complained personally in a separate letter about a similar issue relating to the award-winning Evolution Tower in Moscow.

Mr Kettle said: “I am aware of a letter written by Russian architects Gorproject in relation to the Lakhta Center project in St Petersburg which appears to claim that Kettle Collective Ltd is claiming exclusive authorship of the design of The Lakhta Center Phase 1 project and claims that RMJM and myself, the former design director at RMJM for the project, have no claim to authorship of the Lakhta concept as delivered. This claim is simply wrong. Following the successful conclusion of an International Design Competition, I was responsible for the design of the concept for the project whilst design director at RMJM.”

He added that his personal involvement in the project had continued through Kettle Collective in some work on Phase 2 of the project. The wording of his involvement in the project has been changed on the since the letter was published.

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He added: “There are many projects around the world that have “concept architect” and “delivery architect” and this is no different. Credit should be given for each stage of the works and criticism given for elements that look to destroy the original idea.”

Maxim Bobkov, spokesman for the Lakhta Center project, said: “The author of the original architectural concept is the company RMJM with Tony Kettle Design Director; developed design of the project was carried out by Gorproject, working (detailed) design has been conducted by Samsung C&T since 2014 till now (Gorproject is a subcontractor of Samsung C&T since 2014).”

A spokeswoman for RIAS said the information sent to the organisation by Gorproject would be subject to a “review process”.

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