Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Saturday, 26 September 2009 12:15 UK

Architects reach for Russian sky


Europe's tallest tower plan

Scottish architects RMJM have welcomed a decision by the Russian authorities giving them the go-ahead to build Europe's tallest tower, costing £1.5bn.

The Edinburgh-based firm was appointed in 2006 to design the Okhta tower in St Petersburg. The skyscraper is expected to reach a height of 396m (1,299ft).

This had led to controversy as buildings in the city, a world heritage site, are restricted to 100m (328ft).

Architect Tony Kettle said: "It is a chance to do something world class."

On 22 September the governor of St Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko, signed an exemption to St Petersburg's planning laws which prohibits the construction of structures over 100m tall.

It means RMJM can now progress with the plans to build the tower, which will include a concert hall, an art museum, sports facilities and offices.

Once built, it will be tallest in Europe - the holder of that title is currently the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt.

Unesco has said the Okhta centre would damage the image of Russia and a spokesman for the UN's cultural watchdog said it hoped the skyscraper would not be built.

It is very good for Scotland. We have a huge amount of design talent and good it is to export this talent around the world
Tony Kettle

Opponents have taken legal action to block the project and clashed with police at consultation sessions held by city authorities.

However, Mr Kettle, director at RMJM, told the BBC Scotland News website: "This is about doing something truly world class on the world stage and it is very positive for the city of St Petersburg."

RMJM beat five other internationally-renowned architects for the commission by Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, to develop proposals for the tower located 5km (3 miles) from the historic world heritage site in the city centre, close to the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge and the Smolny Cathedral.

Mr Kettle said his inspiration for the design of the tower came from the city of St Petersburg itself.

He added: "It is a beautiful organic form in stainless steel and glass, because it twists it feels very baroque which links back to the work of Rastrelli who was the main architect of the city.

"I was trying to capture the sense of the movement of the city, the river Neva and its buildings.

"The tower has to be 396m, as at this height we can create a sustainable low-energy building which also has a pragmatic function."

Political pawn

Referring to the controversy surrounding the height of the building, Mr Kettle said: "A 312m (1,023ft) tower already exists in St Petersburg built by the Communists. It stands at 312m, almost the same height as Eiffel tower.

"I was following the tradition of the city with it's singular spires, but the tower has become a political pawn.

"Architecturally, it is very good for Scotland. Scotland has huge amounts of design talent and it is good to export this talent around the world."

The project is due to start in 2010. The tower is expected to be finished in 2013 and the project in its entirety is expected to be completed in 2016.

Mr Kettle admitted there were still several formalities to go through, but essentially he believed the city of St Petersburg was behind his firm.

He said: "The permission that has been granted is for the site, the height limitation remains on the rest of the city.

"It is a special permission for a special building and it is one of series of buildings which have been allowed to break the sky through the centuries."

St Petersburg is the home city of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

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