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Fake news! Kettle consults lawyers as Russian skyscraper design row boils over


Ex-RMJM design director Tony Kettle is threatening legal action against a Russian rival in an escalating row over the authorship of Europe’s tallest tower, nearing completion on the Gulf of Finland

Earlier this week, Philip Nikandrov of Moscow-based firm Gorproject accused the founder of Scottish firm the Kettle Collective of attempting to claim ‘exclusive authorship’ over the 87-storey Lakhta Centre near St Petersburg.

Kettle, who argues the delivered design is his concept from 2011, has said he is now in discussion with lawyers over the row and described Nikandrov’s claim as the ‘architectural equivalent of fake news’.

’The claim is simply wrong,’ he said. ’This is an obvious attempt to re-write history and claim authorship of the concept.’

The row over the tower, a new HQ for energy giant Gazprom, began when a letter signed by 47 architects and designers from Nikandrov’s firm Gorproject argued it had designed the tower in its ‘present appearance’.

The letter then threatened legal action if the Kettle Collective continued to publish Gorproject’s ‘realised design’ without authorisation.

A second letter sent by Nikandrov himself, who also worked at RMJM, accused Kettle of ’authorship theft’ and using the media to ‘seize the laurels’ of a successful project completion.

But Kettle hit back, arguing it was ‘blindingly obvious’ that it was his concept that was delivered and that his creation of the design was ‘beyond contention’. 

’It’s often the case that one architect creates the original design and another development architect brings that concept to fruition, but Nikandrov is just trying to re-write history.’ 

In response to the legal threat from Kettle, Nikandrov said: ’On our side, we have enough evidence; thousands of drawings, 3D models and reports, that can only speak in favour of our position.

’We are not seeking anything than justice, respect and recognition towards the efforts and authorship of our design team at Gorproject, that developed two iconic projects evolved from earlier RMJM concepts.’

’The development of the project and of the working documentation has been carried out based on the concept proposed and amended by RMJM, whose design director was Tony Kettle, currently working in the Kettle Collective company.’

A statement issued by the Lakhta Centre press office said it was RMJM’s original 2011 concept, with Tony Kettle as design director, which had been delivered.

It added: ‘A key requirement for any additional design work was to maintain the visual concept of RMJM and this has been achieved at all stages of the project.’

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).


Readers' comments (3)

  • A classic case of a pot calling the Kettle black . . .

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  • John Kellett

    I had a similar case whilst studying at University. Having created a concept design I had ensured all my drawings were dated (I thought something might happen). When another student presented, at the end of the project, a scheme VERY similar to mine I was accused of plagiarism. The dated drawings PROVED my case. I suspect this is something similar.
    "A statement issued by the Lakhta Centre press office said it was RMJM’s original 2011 concept, with Tony Kettle as design director, which had been delivered." Is as clear a statement that the Russian did not 'design' the tower, but that Tony Kettle and RMJM did.

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  • Phil Parker

    Where does the litigation end?

    RMJM had a proud modernist lineage until in recent years it was bought by Sir Fraser Morrison as a project for his son to tinker with. There then followed a bizarre set of expansions into foreign markets, the ‘removal’ of lots of key experienced staff and their replacement by a new band of young turks who trumped out numerous Studio Max projects across Eastern Europe and Asia - the Zaha-esque Tower in Russia being one of them. I think at one point they even tried to get Will Alsop to inject a bit of credibility into this sorry state of affairs.

    An architectural practice that grows and evolves should do so on the basis of the design lineages of its projects. If you treat it as merely a brand you and all who sail with you are destined to mediocrity.

    The founders of RMJM must be spinning in their beautifully proportioned and detailed brick graves.

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