FROM the relentless heat of the Dubai desert to the frozen winters of Russia, taming and harnessing the extremes has been an enduring mission for Tony Kettle.

The architect best known in Scotland for creating the Falkirk Wheel, and who has been tasked with linking the south side of the Clyde with the north, for the first time with a moving bridge, has been amassing knowledge and fine-crafting technique on a spectacular scale in projects worth many billions of pounds.

The 53-year-old, who was born in the north of England and brought up in Balfron, and who set up the Kettle Collective alongside fellow former RMJM architect Colin Bone in 2012, is now working to use the same ideas and technologies to help shape the future wider built environment of Scotland.

The Edinburgh-based studio is working in tandem with partners on the ground including in St Petersburg, Saudi Arabia and China, with a Hong Kong office the latest addition to its bases that also include Dubai and Muscat footholds as it continues to perform on the world stage.

The Herald:

Above: The Solar Innovation Centre, Dubai

Among his most striking recent buildings is the 87-storey £1.35 billion Lakhta Gazprom Centre in St Petersburg, backed by the Russian gas giant, which at 462 metres (1,516 ft) will be the tallest building in Europe when completed later this year.

Designed to minimise power usage, it expends about 40 per cent of the energy of a conventional tower.

READ MORE: Kettle Collective architects open studio in Oman

At the other extreme there is the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s Solar Innovation Centre, Oman’s Port Sultan Qaboos, a mixture of traditional Omani architecture with contemporary principles, and Al Sofouh, also Dubai, which is a luxury hotel designed to maximise solar shading and reduce heat gain.

The Herald:

Above: Oman’s Port Sultan Qaboos

The theme of sustainable technology though is a constant, and Mr Kettle says the mechanisms and innovations used to quell and channel the energy of the searing heat of the desert or the below- zero temperatures of St Petersburg can be transferred to help create the passive buildings of the future in Scotland.

The Solar Innovation Centre in the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, set to be the largest photovoltaic solar power facility in the region, uses its solar panels to convert light to electricity.

He said: “There’s so much transferable knowledge and that’s what I’m looking to do right now, is transfer some of those ideas from Dubai back to the UK.

The Herald:

Above: Lakhta Gazprom Tower

“What we’ve looked at is new ways of introducing daylight into buildings and still maintain a high level of airtightness and I think that is universal.

“In order to make a passive home work, it needs to be very airtight so it needs very little heating or very little cooling.

“What we’re also looking at here is how to introduce more daylight and green space into that kind of passive house model.

READ MORE: River Clyde waterfront project approved by Scottish Government

“There is already heat pump technology, which is air source or water source or ground source, and all we need to do is to capture a little bit of it, and then, if we have a highly insulated home with high airtightness, we need very little energy to make it comfortable.

The Herald:

Above: South Africa, the Joost Van Der Westhuizen Centre for Neurodegeneration

“In Scotland, we can take that energy to create a zero energy house.

“We just need to transplant technology from one place to the next to try and take that forward to the next step.”

He said: “In Scotland we have that huge potential because there’s a new industry of prefabrication, where you can create things with minimum waste and it can be constructed in a protected environment, and we have an inventiveness in Scotland that allows us to be at the cutting edge of new thinking when it comes to new ways of building and new ways of making things.”

The Herald:

Above: The Clyde crossing 

Turning to his ongoing work in Scotland, the new Glasgow £90 million crossing will be the centrepiece of a planned Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside project, which is expected to create more than 2,300 jobs and bring £867m into the local economy.

When completed in 2022 the city region deal-funded crossing will be the first opening road bridge over the river, following the heritage of the Falkirk Wheel, still the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world.

New roads, walkways and cycle routes are also being created to serve a 150-acre site next to Glasgow Airport which will become a manufacturing district.

READ MORE: Falkirk Wheel architect reveals shipbuilding inspired design for new bridge

“The Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside regeneration project will see the construction of an aspirational ‘twin leaf’ opening bridge over the River Clyde.

“The crossing will create an important connection between the communities and businesses on both sides of the river and unlock the potential for future development and economic growth.

The Herald:

Above: The Falkirk Wheel

The cable suspension bridge “celebrates the River Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage in its design”.

“As the bridge opens and closes, the vertical masts rotate to resemble the turning motion of cranes on the Clyde.

“The bridge will create a local point of interest, with place-making opportunities at landing areas for locals and visitors.”

Mr Kettle says his creations are “both engineering and artwork, in my head”, he maintains close connections with his alma mater the Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh University, and was also behind the Ripple Retreat building at Loch Venachar on a pro bono basis for the It’s Good 2 Give charity for young people with cancer and their families.

The Herald:

Above: The Ripple Retreat, Loch Venachar

“Right now we’re involved with sculpture students coming up with ideas for sculptures to enliven the environment around the building, with things that would work for small children, and things that would also allow the students to develop and be creative.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why? 

  • For Business the most memorable has been AL Ula in Saudi Arabia, an amazing rocky landscape with enormous temples carved into rock faces 50m high, part of the early civilisation that created Petra in Jordan. Few westerners visit, but the most famous was Laurence of Arabia.

For Leisure it has to be Sri Lanka, my parents worked there when I was studying, it’s beautiful with friendly people and an amazing cultural history.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? 

  • Architect, I never thought of doing anything else.

Why did it appeal?

  • I thought my Dad was an architect, he could draw anything with a single unbroken line, he was an engineer ...

What was your biggest break in business?

  • Winning a limited competition for the Lakhta Gazprom Tower in St Petersburg in 2006, against some of the most recognised architects in the world, it made me realise what is possible.

What was your worst moment in business?

  • Winning a huge project in Moscow after many months of negotiations only for it to be immediately cancelled when the ruble crashed in value.

Who do you most admire and why?

  • I admire ambulance crew, they have to deal with life’s traumas on a daily basis, I don’t know how they do it, it takes a special kind of person. 

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? 

  • I’m reading Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens by Sarah Rutherford. Ingenious designer balancing nature with design, I was asked to present a lecture on British Landscape design in China recently and I’m now hooked on his work, blurring the boundaries between the natural and manmade world.

Listening to student MATA string quartet from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, on YouTube, it’s great that anyone can subscribe and listen to the students performing.

What was the last film you saw?

  • First Man. I have all the DVDs of the real moon landing and the film brings the true danger of space exploration to life. The film shows all the testing that went wrong and is truly gripping even though you know the ending. Is that flag really flying in the solar wind?