Lakhta Center is a multifunctional complex in St. Petersburg with the Gazprom headquarter and public spaces occupying a third of the area. Construction was completed in October 2018, now start work on the arrangement of business and public areas. The opening will take place in about a year, when the complex will be fully prepared to meet guests.
Alexander Bobkov: Lakhta Center is coming up to the surface in 22 months
Good afternoon, today our guest is a great man dealing with the construction of the greatest building in the city, Lakhta Center
- It is nice, of course, if your own greatness could be measured with your own creations however unfortunately or rather fortunately it is not me who is building Lakhta Center, it is an entire big team.
Nevertheless it seems difficult to argue the fact that your project will be noticeable in the background of Petersburg architecture in all the senses. In your opinion, which building built over the recent 20-30 years has left its bright architectural trace?
- This issue mainly refers to different tastes. These buildings are likely to exist. Perhaps they not so significant and that is why they are not so well known. Out of modern buildings corresponding to late 20th and early 21st centuries I would mention a complex of buildings of Ladozhsky railway station. Probably it is not significant architecturally but it embodies a logic thought which has added much comfort to thousands of people using this property.
However it was built 10 years ago and Ladozhsky railway will unlikely to be shown to tourists in 100 years. And what could be a business card of the city apart from the historic buildings which people specially come to have a look at?
- If you spend most of your time in our city and do not notice anything like that in Petersburg, it means that if such buildings were built, they did not become a subject for attention. And it is sad.
In general I would like to point out that all the tourist routes and destinations where foreign and Russian tourist buses stop at are located next to buildings built one hundred years ago and more. It is no coincidence that I have mentioned Ladozhsky railway station because apart from architecture and desire to leave something to the next generations, it is good that something not architecturally significant but useful has been created. It is important too. As for architecture … well, over the recent years I cannot recall any building which I would suggest putting on the list of interesting sights.
Petersburg seems an “enchanted” city where it is difficult to build something peculiar. And if something is created by taking enormous efforts, it poses numerous questions. What are the reasons for that?
- There are a few explanations. And one of the main reasons is a too conservative attitude towards everything extraordinary. A good principle “do no harm” in an exaggerated form turns into absurd and in an example of the second stage of the Mariinsky Theater we can see metamorphoses when the project revised fourfold has turned from a landmark project to an ordinary building. That is why other projects as well end up in mock up models or paperwork because they often fail to pass through such a conservative sieve. The second reason is that there is a pseudo-professional community in the city expressing their opinion rather loudly and actively on the matters they are not specialized in. They argue that it is “not ours” and it is “alien to us” because we are the public and we represent the public. As a result initiators of amazing projects lose their interest and search for new sites.
You have not given up and apparently your project has passed through a sieve because as early as this autumn the construction started. Has the project lost anything by relocating from Okhta to Lakhta?
- The project itself has become better, we have gained a spare year and decided in favour of a site with more opportunities, it is not squeezed by the adjoining buildings and is geologically better. Though from the point of view of a positive effect onto the surrounding area on Okhta, this effect could have been even stronger, that is why we regret about it to some extent. As for our passing through a sieve, you are right, now the situation with documentation is clear and we have obtained all the required permits and since October last year we have moved to a construction stage.
What is going on at site at the moment?
- An early works cycle is underway, the pile base is installed. We are within the timeframe, a professional team is involved, including foreigners widely experienced in participating in the similar projects.
Are there any unique solutions used at the underground stage because the scale of the building implies a special approach.
- Right, the dimensions, weight, structural particularities differ from typical ones. In this case we are speaking about a tower which is a landmark of the project though it occupies a smaller area. It will be a 460m tall building with a reinforced concrete core mounted on a box-type foundation mounted on 256 piles 82m deep and 2m in diameter. Each pile is a separate complicated design, in fact a 25 storey building underground and each pile bears half a percent of the load of the future building. A high load is transferred to the walls of piles, for this purpose we reached firm layers of the soil to reduce this load and avoid any slight displacements.
There is a remarkable though not revolutionary solution of the tower itself where apart from the core there are the so called outrigger columns located so that even at a 30% distance of the bearing structures the tower will be stable and its structures avoid any force major events.
So suspicious dwellers may not be afraid of a falling tower?
- That’s right. Under the technical brief the tower has a multiple safety factor as compared to an average business functionality building. Such risks therefore are excluded.
Were the technical solutions used at site applied in Russia previously?
- They are used at present, in Moscow in particular, in the construction of high-rise buildings under a well-known Moscow City Project. Due to some circumstances this project turned to be more dynamic that ours. Over a dozen of buildings have been built already and a few elements borrowed in our project were used there. Vladimir Travush, our main structural engineer who has taken part in the construction of high-rise buildings in Russia since the Ostankino tower was built was involved in this project as well. He has left his imprint on any building over 100m tall in our country. This man arouses respect, his experience and courage cannot help arousing such feelings including those of foreign colleagues.
Are contractors known already who have won tenders for construction?
- At present only the early works quantity is contracted, the general contractor is Arabtec, a foreign company which is experienced in constructing the tallest building in the world in Dubai. And the subcontractor leading the works is a German company specialized in producing unique piles and our company dealing with the diaphragm wall. In future we plan to cooperate in this international bundle which ensures the best quality at reasonable price.
It means that Russian specialists will gain a unique experience as well?
- Naturally there are enough professional participants in the city who could embody unique solutions, the only thing is that they should be sorted out and divided into separate objectives to be imposed on Russian companies. It is more reasonable in terms of timeframe as well, not to engage foreigners when there are good local specialists.
When will the underground phase be completed?
- This issue is stipulated in the program. Under the program this phase takes 18 months, four months for the part between two bearing slabs so in 22 months we will come up to the surface and get down to the construction of the superstructure. After that we will move forward at a speed of one floor daily.
The core itself will be built within a year. As compared to the core the floor slabs will be built three floors later in sequence, and columns between them will be built two floors later. 4 stops will be made. These are required to retain stability, 4 outrigger passages are designed, these are foundations which not only one floor but other 14 floors above will be mounted on.
How do your contractors manage to have much in common, Turks, Germans, Russian? Such an international team like in the Football Club Zenith.
- Right, and the Football Club Zenith manages to put up with it.
In this case who is the main coach in your team?
- It is the Client who connects and reconciles everybody. Communication and correspondence is bilingual, Russian and English. If it had been the sole problem, then we would have completed the tower. Because when a person cannot read drawings, it is a larger problem than when he does not know any Russian words or terms. Communication between professionals is built up without any mediators. I can often see how they even do not notice themselves speaking their own languages like in the film “Peculiarities of National Fishing”. The format of our documents is international, clear to everybody.
The scale of construction requires a high quantity of materials. How are they delivered without bothering the dwellers of the district and who is able to supply all these materials?
- The main structural material is concrete, metal and glass. The quantity is impressive, indeed however it is achievable for the region. The quantity is available in the market, all our potential contractors have enough time to be prepared for large-scale supplies. For the underground phase we will need about 42k cu.m. It is excluding the underground floors. It is just the basis. These are not outrageous figures. And about 100k cu.m. for the tower. It can be achieved by a couple of big companies in the city. The issue lies in logistics.
However a special concrete grade is meant, isn’t?
- Right, concrete grades are higher than average, but we do not set an objective to build a unique building from entirely unique materials about which it is unknown how they will behave in our climate. We are convinced that market leaders have equipment to ensure the required quality of materials. Logistics-wise Lakhta has a few advantages as compared to Okhta. The construction materials will be delivered by road vehicles and by sea. There is a berth at site and a required depth for marine vessels to access.
What power capacity will be required?
- The issue of power capacity has been resolved already in the design and has passed a federal expertise authority. We have awarded contracts with monopolists to connect Lakhta Center to power supply utilities, it refers to both power and water supply, and heating. The capacity is slightly less than 40 megawatts purchased from “Sankt Peterburgskiye Elektricheskiye Sety” by connecting our complex to a new substation which construction is financed by us. It will have a twofold load back up as compared to what we request and it will supply power to the whole South Lakhta.
They say that connection to power networks costs 30k–40k rubles per kilowatt in the market...
- It is exactly the price at which we are connected. The amount can be counted when multiplying this value by 37 megawatt required by us. We are connected on general grounds without any preferences from the city or monopolists.
Preferences for your project have been extensively spoken about recently, allegedly the transport infrastructure in Primorsky district is built to accommodate your needs, some deputies of the Legislative Assembly propose to Gazprom to built all the infrastructure next to the complex.
- This issue is indeed widely discussed. I would like to point out that our complex is not a development project in its ordinary sense, like a plot of land is found, a building is built and sold, the next plot of land is found… This complex will mainly be operated by us and our employees will work there. We build it for ourselves and we are interested in how the surrounding area will be developed.
However when speaking about city’s projects which are planned in the north of the city allegedly aimed at solely Gazprom or Lakhta Center Project, it is mostly invented.
Any dweller of the district may have a look at a list of objects planned to be built on this land and be assured that they belong to the city. As for the objects which refer to us, these are the connection of a micro-district South Lakhta to Primorskoye highway and the relevant driveways. We would like it to be done as efficient as possible to avoid any disturbance to the dwellers.
You said that the tower occupied a smaller part of the area of the whole complex. Does a design exist what is planned there?
-We have considerably revised the functionality of the complex after it was relocated to Lakhta, the business function will be retained as the main one however we have to work out the surroundings. To make this area vibrant in the evenings and at weekends we have extended the complex to include the so called “general people’s” functions by adding a hotel, a children’s educational center, a decent hospital to offices. Another tip is a multifunctional concert hall which will by all means be in demand where any event can be arranged for 500-600 people. A globe-type planetarium is planned. I hope that by 2018 when the commissioning of the complex is planned it will be the city and not Gazprom which will gain a good point of attraction. We will be ready to deliver a presentation of the project this autumn.
In the tower itself the business function is prevailing though a panorama restaurant and an observation deck will be included as well.
Based on your development experience what can you personally say what developers in Petersburg are short of or everything is OK in this market? How should the relationship between developers and the city be maintained? Is this industry developing in the right way?
- We can say specifically in relation to our project. Development in Petersburg is a noticeable part of city’s economy covering a lot of adjoining spheres. The conditions are close to average throughout the country however because of the specifics of the city the interest is slightly higher here. The relationships of the market participants with monopolists, authorities and between themselves are more intense though the principle “do no harm” often hinders the best intentions.
A few characteristic features can be identified, a conservative approach of the public to changes including positive ones, an insufficient coordination of city’s authorities, an insufficient activity and their clear standpoint on any project. Conservatism can be overcome by delivering presentations, explanations. As for the authorities primarily it is necessary to sort it out to which extent the city is interested in a project to avoid a situation when the interests of different authorities clash.
Of course, nowadays ordinary investors pay attention to what is going on with investment projects of VTB, Glavstroy and other federal players. By projecting it onto himself an average investor tends to think of finding a calmer place. In the regions the walkout of large investors is under control whereas in Petersburg apparently there are too many investors. I think it is the reason for diminishing enthusiasm.
I wonder that at the time of the former administration of Valentina Matvienko who often turned to be a driver of a lot of projects and event the best PR, you have not progressed much and this time the construction has started already.
- It is not related to the city’s administration, it is more connected with the time schedule. We planned to complete the design and pass through the expertise authority last summer and by that time the administration had been reshuffled already. It is just calendar without any underlying sense.