The former design director of Scottish architect RMJM is considering legal action against a Russian firm in an escalating row over who designed the Lakhta Centre in St Petersburg, set to be the headquarters of Gazprom and the tallest building in Europe.
Tony Kettle, now head of the Kettle collective, is reported to be consulting his lawyers after a letter sent by Moscow designer Gorproject to architects’ bodies in the UK and Russia accusing Kettle of trying to claim design authorship over the 87-storey building.
The letter, which was signed by 47 architects, claimed the tower "in its present appearance" was carried out by Gorproject under the leadership of Philip Nikandrov.
Nikandrov then sent a second letter accusing Kettle of using the media to "seize the laurels" of a successful project completion and threatening legal action if he persisted.
According to newspaper The Scotsman, the Russians wrote: "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 Center Phase 1 project."
The tower as it was in June of this year (Monoklon/Creative Commons)
At the time, Kettle responded: "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 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."
Yesterday Architect’s Journal reported that Kettle had gathered his lawyers and was threatening legal action.
He said the Russian claims were the "architectural equivalent of fake news".
"The claim is simply wrong," he told the Journal. "This is an obvious attempt to re-write history and claim authorship of the concept."
Kettle had earlier defended his claim to have been the main creative force behind the design, saying: "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."
Tony Kettle, right, posted this photo on Twitter, showing a visit to the Lakhta Centre in July
For its part, Gorproject admits that RMJM’s original design – which was itself influenced by the nearby Cathedral of St Peter – "influenced the architectural language and style" of the final Lakhta design, but said it was "not realised in its original fashion".
Maxim Bobkov, spokesperson for the Lakhta Centre project, tried to play down the spat. He said: "The author of the original architectural concept is the company RMJM with Tony Kettle as design director; developed design of the project was carried out by Gorproject as a subcontractor of Samsung C&T since 2014."
The story dates back to 2006, when RMJM won a competition to design a headquarters for Gazprom, which never got off the ground. Work on a new design, which became the Lakhta Centre, was later begun at another location on the Gulf of Finland. Gorproject is arguing that this change of position meant that sufficient changes were made to RMJM’s concept.
A spokesperson for Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland said the information sent to the organisation by Gorproject would be subject to a "review process".
Top image: A rendering of the tower on its site, about 12km from the centre of St Petersburg (Gazprom)