19 September 2018

A record-breaking skyscraper for Russia

Completed in June 2018, the Lakhta Centre in St Petersburg, designed by the renowned RMJM studio, is a record-breaking skyscraper.

Not only is it Russia and Europe's tallest building – standing 462 metres high – it is also the 13th tallest building in the world, with 87 floors. Furthermore, Gazprom, the Russian gas company that will occupy most of the building, also states that it is the northernmost skyscraper in the world. Last but not least, tapering to a point, the spire has a 90- degree twist from foundation to tip, making it the most extreme twist on a tower after the megatall Shanghai Tower's 120 degree twist.

That’s not all. Since wind speeds at an elevation of 400 metres in St Petersburg can reach 87 miles an hour, piles were driven 82 metres deep into the city's soft ground in order to anchor the supertall tower and provide stable foundations. Its smooth glass façade is formed of 16,500 pieces of curved glass, with a system of automatic shutters and valves to make it energy efficient. Energy recuperating elevators, a vacuum waste disposal system and cold accumulators are some of the other technologies employed by the tower to make it more sustainable. A publicly accessible observation deck is located at the 360-metre point. A planned restaurant will be Europe's highest panoramic restaurant.

Is the Lakhta Centre a new Wonder of the World? Almost but not quite!

The Lakhta Centre is the upshot of a large-scale project for the construction of a modern business centre in the Primorsky district of Saint Petersburg, housing a wide range of public services with a developed public and transport infrastructure. The Lakhta Centre was conceived as a pilot project for the integrated development of the area and the construction of a mini city on the outskirts of St Petersburg, a sustainable district for life and work. Two thirds of the office space at the Lakhta Centre is taken up by the new Gazprom headquarters, which will employee 8,000 workers on site. A third of the complex has been given over to public spaces, including a science and education centre, a spherical planetarium, a concert hall, amphitheatre and several squares.

The project for a business centre with a high-rise landmark and base buildings was selected following an international architectural contest held by Gazprom in 2006. The contest was won by RMJM (Tony Kettle, Design Director) with a project for the future headquarters of a large energy company in keeping with the architectural traditions of St Petersburg, which was created as a city of horizontals. The city is built on flat lowland, making for buildings of a relatively even height, accentuated in some spots by high-rise complexes. The spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Admiralty and the dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral are city-forming landmarks with architectural ensembles around them.

The high-rise building envisaged in the concept for the business centre provides an architectural accent in a formerly industrial and unbuilt area. The high-rise complex on the coast of the Gulf of Finland is far enough from the city’s traditional landmarks and its historic buildings so as not to compete with them, serving as a city-forming element and a draw for new development projects and businesses in a new, evolving city district.

St Petersburg’s main architectural motifs are reflected in the concept for the business centre. The design provides for a solitary spire in a horizontal landscape, with base buildings suggestive of a ship’s hull, and a maritime theme of wave-like load-bearing structures. The organic shape of the building symbolizes the power of water, the flow of space, openness and lightness. The free fall effect and the way in which the complex blends so completely into the surrounding space are underscored by the use of a special type of glass that enables the tower to change colour, as if it were a living organism.

The architect’s task was to implement a project for a new ultramodern skyscraper in a city with a rich cultural and historical past, the historic centre of which is a proclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tony Kettle, the author of the architectural concept for the Lakhta Centre said: “The flowing forms of water, the glinting spires of the Peter and Paul cathedral, the size of the sky canvas above the horizontal grain. My sense was very much to create something that was as light and elegant as the historical forms, capturing the changes in daylight in a similar way to that of the golden domes and spires.” He went on to say: “The tower was designed as a simple organic spire with asymmetrical movement in its skin, to be seen as a singular landmark at city scale. Underlying the simple elegance of its exterior there are actually five individual twisting towers, each with its own glazed skin. These come together and taper around a diminishing circular core, enveloped by a further insulating skin.”

Amphitheatre overlooking the water
The design for the city’s only open-air amphitheatre was dictated by the nature of the landscape. The architects and designers resolved the natural difference in altitude between the 13m elevation and sea level by creating a modern-day “Colosseum” for water shows. The amphitheatre is geared to the water; the stage can be both the water and the area along the coastline. It has a maximum audience capacity of 2,000.

Atrium, Retail Areas, Exhibitions
The retail area is located on the ground floor of the public and business complex. The exhibition area is located in the south part of the building with a 1,500 m2 atrium, with facilities for permanent and temporary exhibitions and a multimedia hall. There is also a dedicated open space for displaying art objects, sculptures and installations in the northern square of the complex.

Children’s Science Centre
The Children’s Centre is modelled on leading examples around the world, in cooperation with the foremost St Petersburg universities, and will be integrated into the general educational system. Children of all ages will be able to study natural, physical, chemical and other phenomena here. The children’s centre is arranged over 7,000 m2.

Multifunctional Transformable Hall
The large hall has a maximum capacity of 494 seats. It is the first transformable hall in St Petersburg and can be divided into two smaller halls. Concerts, theatre performances, ice shows, fashion shows, conferences, etc. can be held here. The hall can be completely transformed according to use. The seating layout, stage sizes and configuration can all be changed. An ice arena can be rolled out for use as a free skating rink when there are no events scheduled.

Health Centre
The centre includes a multi-purpose 2,500 m2 treatment and diagnostic centre with treatment and imaging rooms, a dental clinic and X-ray, therapy and surgical facilities, etc., all boasting state-of-the-art equipment. This health centre will help offset the shortage of high quality health centres and children’s outpatient hospitals in the densely populated Primorsky district.

Sports Complex
A 4,600m2 area is dedicated to a wellness and relaxation spa, a swimming pool, gyms and a fitness centre.

Co-working Centre
An interestingly designed co-working area, complete with furniture and office equipment, is currently under development.