Expo 2017 Astana is an International Exposition currently taking place in the Kazakhstani capital. With its theme “Future Energy”, it aims to create a global debate between countries and the public. It expects to attract up to 3 million visitors. 

Opening on June 10th it runs until September 10th.

As project manager for some of the project’s key compontents, Hill International faced a considerable challenge. John Paolin (right), Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Comjohn paolin hill internationalmunications at Hill explains how it played its part in bringing this remarkable undertaking to life, on time and within budget.

Expo 2017 Astana

Taking on challenges – however daunting they may be – and successfully handing over a project on time and within budget despite unique challenges, is a proud moment for any project manager.

For Serdar Gucar, Managing Director for Hill International and his team, their accomplishment will have an impact on an entire country.

On June 9th, the world witnessed a grand opening of the International Exposition, or more popularly known as Expo 2017, in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Leading global media houses covered the opening ceremony. Heads of state from European and Asian nations were in attendance and social media was flooded with posts from the event. It is clear that this event cast a global spotlight on city of Astana and the country Kazakhstan.

More than 100 countries and over 20 major international organizations are participating in the event, that will be held until September, and likely attract about 3 million visitors to the pavilions and the exhibition.

Kazakhstan an emerging nation

Expo 2017 Astana is at the heart of Kazakhstan’s drive to showcase itself as an emerging nation in Central Asia. Thius is being done on the back of its huge hydrocarbon wealth and no efforts were spared to ensure its success. With oil being the principal source of revenue for Kazakhstan, despite prices being low since 2015, the government remained committed to ensuring uninterrupted flow of funding for the project. Hill has been playing a major role for the development that had a price tag of nearly $3.3 billion.

Hill worked closely with the main contractor, Sembol Corp. The company was assigned assembol construction logo the project manager for the core components of the Expo compound. This included iconic buildings like the ‘Sphere’ and the ‘Congress Center’, he said.

The ‘Sphere” was the centerpiece of the mega development. It is a fully transparent 80-meter-diameter structure that hangs over 13 meters off the ground. “There is not any other sphere or similar type of structure with this diameter in the world,” Gucar said. Furthermore, in line with the design a floating vision was provided with eight pieces of hangers carrying 5,000 tons of force each.

The Sphere is by itself an innovation

“We used 14,000 tons of steel and that came with advanced engineering and technology on projection, production and erection. Four pieces of tower crane, were specially produced just for the Sphere,” he said. Also, a special foundation system with bore piling for high-bearing capacity was also completed for the project.

“The Sphere is by itself an innovation. The double curved facade glazing is made in Italy and the Sphere includes solar photovoltaic panels,” Gucar said.

sphere structure 2017 astana

The Expo 2017 Astana city was primarily divided into two phases. These included 97 exhibition and cultural pavilions and a residential development. In addition, service areas included shopping, socio-cultural, educational and civic facilities and parks and parking spaces. Phase 1, or the ‘Expo Mode’ entailed the construction of the exposition buildings. These included the central Kazakhstan pavilion, theme, corporate and international pavilions, as well as hotel, retail, art and performance areas.

It also included the construction of a series of buildings that will act as a “covered city”. This provides residential, retail and office spaces. Phase 1 is primarily serving the Expo and its visitors. Bearing in mind the expo theme of “Future Energy,” the buildings are being constructed to take advantage of their site location.

Applying best PM/CM practices

By far, the most challenging aspect of the project was the brutality of a harsh winter.

“We had to work in a sub-zero temperature of minus 46 degrees Celsius [minus 52 degrees Fahrenheit] with a fixed delivery date and no tolerance. We used ‘agile management techniques,’ comprising planning and scheduling, flexible resource planning, etc,” Gucar said.

structure sphere expo 2017 astana

The other challenges were the complicated construction techniques needed to erect the iconic Sphere. It is the biggest in the world and in addition is is the only one which is mathematically a sphere. “All façade glazing was made of glass and curved in two axis. In addition, the steel construction work was very challenging,” he added. Hill used its design management skills to achieve best constructability methods.expo astana logo 2017

Also, with 250 contractors and suppliers, every effort was launched to ensure deliveries were made in a synchronized manner. This ensured that the project was completed on time and within budget.

“We managed the supply chain with elaborately established management instruments. Like in a factory, we had to use ‘just in sequence’ (not merely just in time) assembly and erection procedures,” Gucar said. New building regulations for old Soviet styles combined with modern Western standards was a challenge.

Elaborate project management techniques

Successfully coordinating multi-national contractors, architects and design consultants was therefore, imperative, Gucar said. In the end, all fell into place with the grand opening and ensuring the realization of Kazakhstan’s dream of being a prime destination in the CIS states in the future. In addition, everything was driven by a schedule in which all parties had buy-in.

expo 2017 astana hill international

“For everyone to have ownership of the schedule, everyone needed to have input. It had to be realistic, reasonable, flexible and most importantly up-to-date.  We would also routinely analyze the schedule to determine the most optimum way forward at that point-in-time and communicate any changes to all parties in real time,” he said.

Lessons learned could be applied to the next global Expo to be held in Dubai in 2020. They would also apply to any project that involves such complex structures as the ‘Sphere’ and the whole Astana Expo City.

“In Kazakhstan, everyone is happy with the timely delivery of Expo 2017 Astana. And they appreciate this is a success of elaborate project management techniques,” Gucar said.

“The success of Expo 2017 Astana could also likely spark an effort by other nations to “build their own landmarks with unique designs.”

All images, video, Hill International and Expo 2017 Astana