The Lakhta Center skyscraper: it is no business of mine...

Shadow of the tower of Babel

In one of his articles, Professor of the Department of International Finance at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Doctor of Economic Sciences, Valentin Katasonov, emphasizes that the construction of skyscrapers is a scheme for the repatriation to the West of petrodollars obtained by exporting countries for energy supplies:

‘The West opens a green signal only to investments in debt securities of its treasuries, which in practice means almost interest-free lending to economies of the Golden Billion countries. This leaves oil-producing countries with a poor choice: either Western treasury bonds or prestigious skyscrapers’.

John Perkins elaborates on this issue in his book titled “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”: “A condition of such loans is that engineering and construction companies from our own country must build all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston, or San Francisco’. Under this scheme, the development of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Moscow, and St. Petersburg has been carried out, with the latter being home to a construction project for Europe’s tallest skyscraper — the Lakhta Center tower that will be completed soon.

One need only look at key contractors of the project to make sure that most of the “national wealth” sold by Gazprom will go to Arabtec, AECOM, Bauer, Samsung C&T Corporation, and other foreign companies. Upon the information received by Construction.RU, Russian companies lose 1 trillion rubles every year in the construction of high-rise buildings — and this figure grows with increasing share of foreign companies in Russian construction industry.

As it is known, the skyscraper was originally planned to be located in another place, beside the river of Okhta. And it was called in a different way — Okhta-center. But after numerous objections from St. Petersburg residents, who claimed that the facility would spoil classic historical views of the city, the project was moved to the shore of the Gulf of Finland. The level of groundwater there is one and a half meters, therefore, unprecedented in cost and complexity building activities have been carried out at a zero stage.

The Lakhta Center skyscraper: it is no business of mine...

Architect Philip Nikandrov is an experienced designer of high-rise buildings. The famous Evolution tower in Moscow City and participation in high-rise construction projects abroad are behind him. In St. Petersburg skyscraper, he implemented his favorite method — “twisting” of a building, a gradual turn of its faces in relation to each other.

‘As a result (of the prohibition of Okhta Center — editor’s note), the project had to be reworked almost completely’, Philip Nikandrov says. ‘Only the image of a flame that was originally designed in there has remained unchanged. We proceeded from the building’s functionality. After all, the Lakhta Center is the headquarters of Gazprom’.

Lahta is a building with full glazing, in analogy with the Gherkin by architect Norman Foster, Barcelona Torre Agbar by Jean Nouvel, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai designed by Adrian Smith. But Lakhta has become the largest object made from cold-formed glass. This technology allows creating a continuous fluid image. The joints of the glass modules on it are practically invisible.

The architect worked a lot with reflections — he made special calculations of elevation of the building at different times of the day and under different weather conditions.

‘Finally, we have got a real picture, in comparison with which all visualizations fade’, the author of the building notes. ‘Reflections in the faces of the building at sunrise and sunset are just breathtaking’.

A breathtaking building

Those who turned the project into reality had to find a solution to complex design “equations” in many unknowns. The building is composed of three different in quality materials.

‘We did a lot of modeling of the facility — connection of concrete, metal, and glass,’ the project chief engineer Sergey Nikiforov says. ‘Joint points of the three materials was a particular challenge’.

A lot of things, according to the team of the skyscraper creators, were done for the first time. There were no standards for many technical solutions — as concerned the high-rise construction, they are as scarce as hen's teeth. Everything had to be worked out on dummy buildings.

Of course, a particular attention was given to wind loads. It is common knowledge that high-rise buildings, in their upper part, behave like a plant’s stem — they swing in the wind, with the deviation reaching tens of centimeters. The building’s deformation was calculated based on the test results, while the wind effect on the joints was studied separately.

The Lakhta Center skyscraper: it is no business of mine...

For glazing, the modular technology was applied — that is, a unique module-block was designed for each section of the building. One such unit weighs about 800 kg, so it was necessary to solve the problem of lifting such blocks to the height. As an attachment to the tower structure, a fairly simple technique was used — suspension of blocks by the top.

In the vicinity of the construction site, a workshop for assembling the facade elements was operating on a permanent basis. The special glass was used: for internal glazing — hardened glass, while for external glazing — heat-strengthened glass. Facade systems were also created for the specific project.

‘We tested each module at our plant in Rosenheim, with the customer being there during the test,’ said Sergey Konarev, head of the large projects department at Schüco, which supplied facade systems for the construction. ‘Some elements of the facade were first printed on a 3D printer’.

In the construction process, we had to cope with the effect of anisotropy. Anisotropy (from Greek ánisos — unequal and tróроs — direction) is the disparity in physicochemical properties of the medium (for example, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, etc.), depending on the direction of action on the medium. This considerably complicated the materials’ “compatibility” with each other.

Alongside with the construction, the operating part has also been worked out. It is not an easy task to maintain such an edifice, though. An original solution was proposed — two trusses moved up and down by special rails, allowing to wash the glass or replace the damaged sections without hindrance.

The unique moment was the installation of a spire on the Lakhta Center tower, because of which its height has reached 462 meters. Now, from the highest viewing platform in Europe, one can enjoy the view of the city, the Gulf of Finland and even see a little beyond the horizon.

The Lakhta Center skyscraper: it is no business of mine...

Back to the horizon

Beyond the horizon, a recession is looming, which will certainly affect the regional economy after the completion of such a large-scale project, because the invested money will not “spread through” the domestic economy, but rather will flow from the Gulf of Finland. Moreover, due to actually speculative demand for the giant construction, other sectors of the economy have already suffered. But there is another dimension to this problem.

‘In Christian society, those early developments in Babylon have always been read as a lesson and warning. The construction of skyscrapers alarms Muslims as well’, Valentin Katasonov stresses. ‘The Muslim tradition refers the construction of majestic buildings to small signs of the Doomsday. It is said: when the shepherds of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of higher buildings, this will be the sign of the end of time.

But it seems that today neither the Saudis designing a kilometer-high tower of Burj al-Mamlaka, nor the Russians with their notorious Lakhta do not care about the warnings. It is none of my business and that's it.

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