Scottish architect in legal argument over design of Russian skyscraper

A legal dispute has emerged between a top Scottish architect and a Russian architecture firm over the design of a skyscraper near St Petersburg.

Tony Kettle, the founder of Scottish firm the Kettle Collective, has been accused by Moscow-based firm Gorproject of claiming design authorship over the Lakhta Centre, which is nearing completion on the Gulf of Finland.

At 87 storeys high, the skyscraper is the 13th-tallest building in the world and the tallest in Europe.

In a letter issued to architectural bodies the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and the Union of Architects of Russia, Gorproject claimed the design of phase 1, including the tower in its “present appearance” was carried out by its own design team under the leadership of Philip Nikandrov.

And in a second letter, sent by Nikandrov himself, Kettle was accused of “authorship theft” and using the media to “seize the laurels” of a successful project completion.

Kettle, who is the architect behind the Falkirk Wheel, claims the delivered design is the result of his concept from 2011 while working at architecture firm RMJM.

In 2006, RMJM won an international competition to design a headquarters for client 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 Centre, was later begun at another location on the Gulf of Finland.

The Gorproject team admits that the original Okhta Centre 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.

In the letters, which signed by 47 architects including Nikandrov, who also worked for RMJM between 2007 and 2011, said: “We… the design team of architects of The Lakhta Centre 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 Centre Phase 1 project.”

A statement from Gazprom said it was RMJM’s original 2011 concept, with Tony Kettle as design director, which had been delivered at the Lahkta site.

It added that “developed design of the project” had been carried out by Gorproject.

Tony Kettle has said he is now in discussion with lawyers over the dispute.

Mr Kettle said: “I am aware of a letter written by Russian architects Gorproject in relation to the Lakhta Centre project in St Petersburg which appears to claim that Kettle Collective Ltd is claiming exclusive authorship of the design of The Lakhta Centre 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: “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.”

A spokesperson for the RIAS said: “We have had not had sight of any documents, contracts or copyright licenses which might have been entered into and therefore we are unable to comment.”

RIBA said it had received no formal complaint on the matter.

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