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Ex-RMJM star in design spat with Russian architect over Europe’s tallest tower

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A row has broken out between former RMJM international group design director Tony Kettle and a Russian architect over who designed Europe’s new tallest building – an 87-storey skyscraper near St Petersburg

Staff at Moscow-based firm Gorproject have accused Scottish practice The Kettle Collective of trying to claim ‘authorship’ over energy giant Gazprom’s mammoth tower, currently nearing completion on the Gulf of Finland.

In a letter signed by 47 architects and designers, Gorproject claims 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, the disgruntled architect accuses Kettle of ’authorship theft’ and using the media to ‘seize the laurels’ of a successful project completion.

In turn, Kettle argues the delivered design is his concept from 2011 while he was working at RMJM (see RMJM redesigns controversial Gazprom tower).

He said: ’I am sure the client will confirm that I and my team as part of RMJM was the author of the 2011 project concept, and that is what has been delivered within the constraints of design development.

’That is why later I personally was asked by the client to revisit the project for phase 2, whilst at Kettle Collective, to create a united concept for the whole composition, which is on the Kettle Collective website.’

Gorproject’s letter (seen by the AJ’s sister title NCE) said while it accepts RMJM’s concept designs ’influenced the architectural language’ of the tower, this does not mean it, or Kettle, can lay claim to authorship of the completed project. 

’In such long and complex projects zero involvement also means zero authorship at the end,’ wrote Nikandrov, who had also worked at RMJM.

In the letters, which were sent to the RIBA, the RIAS and the Union of Architects of Russia, Gorproject said: ‘… we hereby object [to] any unauthorised publications or public presentations by the Kettle Collective and their representatives in relation to the Lakhta Center Phase 1 project, that contain any images and drawings of our realized design and its photos as built. In case of violation of our author’s rights we shall consider all possible measures including the legal action against the offenders’.

But a statement from the client, 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.

In 2011 Gazprom was forced to relocate the tower – then called the Okhta Centre – from a central St Petersburg site to the coast after public outcry over its scale (see AJ 22.06.11).

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

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

Response in full from the client, Gazprom

We appreciate and respect the role of each of our partners, but we will be grateful if the position of the customer and the investor of the Lakhta Center project will be accepted as the main source of information. The client’s position is that the original concept (2011) has been delivered.

The author of the original architectural concept (2011) is the company RMJM with Tony Kettle, design director; developed design of the project (2011) 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).

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Industry Professional

    Perhaps Network Rail might like to issue a similar statement regarding the authorship of the design of London Bridge Station and the Roles of TPBennett/ Alan Baxter and Grimshaw/WSP in its creation and delivery.

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  • Phil Parker

    Judging from the renders it’s clear why they are squabbling about the Authorship of the building rather than the architectural merit of the building. The latter is non existent.

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