Accounting for nearly 20% of Kazakhstan’s GDP and 60% of total export earnings, crude oil prices are remaining stubbornly low. Few will disagree that it has taken a toll on Kazakhstan’s construction activities, as well as those of other Caspian countries.
By Ashok Dutta (left), Hill International
Work on the International Exposition, more popularly known as Expo 2017, is progressing in full swing in the capital city of Astana. More than 100 countries and over 20 major international organizations are expected to participate in the event, which will be held from July to September 2017. It is estimated that the Expo will attract approximately 3 million visitors to the pavilions and the exhibition.
Kazakhstan – Emerging Nation
Expo 2017 is at the heart of Kazakhstan’s drive to showcase itself as an emerging nation in Central Asia, on the back of its huge hydrocarbon wealth. “There is absolutely no doubt that the mega event will put Kazakhstan in a different league, ” said Serdar Gucar, managing director of Turkey and CIS for Hill International. “This is an internationally important project. Despite the low oil prices that resulted in governmental budget cuts, funding for the project is still being maintained.”
Hill International has been playing a major role in the ongoing development that is estimated to have a price tag of $3.3 billion. Working closely with the main contractor, Sembol Corp, Hill has been assigned as the project manager for the core components of the Expo compound, including iconic buildings like the sphere.
The Astana Expo City 2017 is primarily divided into two phases:
Phase 1 – Expo Mode
Expo Mode entails the construction of the exposition buildings. This includes the central Kazakhstan pavilion, theme, corporate and international pavilions, as well as the hotel, retail, art and performance areas. It will also include the construction of a series of buildings that will act as a “covered city”. They will provide residential, retail and office spaces. Phase 1 will primarily serve the Expo and it’s visitors, keeping in mind the theme of the expo, “Future Energy”. The buildings are also being constructed to take advantage of their site location.
“Everything in the residential development, from the street grid rotation, the block size and the distribution of building mass, was developed through a series of studies to reduce energy use, improve comfort levels for indoors and outdoors and increase energy harvesting for each unit, ” said the website of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, the design consultant for Expo.
Phase 2 – Legacy Mode
The second phase is for buildings that will be converted into an office and research park, attracting international companies and entrepreneurs. The Expo parking and service zones will be converted into integrated neighbourhoods. There will also be an additional 700 residential units, as well as offices, hotels, local markets and civic and educational institutions.
“The sphere, which contains 12, 000 tons of steel, is by itself an innovation. The curved facade is made in Italy, and the sphere includes solar photovoltaic panels, ” Gucar said. He noted that the whole project came with it’s share of challenges that are being tackled. “The facilities being built are extremely complex, and special construction techniques are required. Also, the severe winter and the tight time schedule were other challenges.”
The 800kg panes of glass for the sphere, for instance, required speciality lifting equipment to be put in place.
Kazakhstan’s Most Prestigious Project
New building regulations that combined the old Soviet styles with modern Western standards were also a challenge. Typically for a project like the Expo 2017, it involves multi-national contractors, architects and design consultants. Co-ordination is also difficult, Gucar says – approximately 250 local companies are at work on the site. Hill International is on track to commission the project in June. “It will be a great accomplishment for us. Expo 2017 is the most prestigious project of Kazakhstan, and it was awarded to us, ” he said.
Hill’s success through Expo 2017 will open the doors for the company to pursue other major opportunities in Western Europe. Evidence of that is already in hand, with the company providing project and construction management services for the St Regis Hotel and Residences project in Astana. They will provide the 120-room luxury upscale hotel, complemented by restaurants, a signature spa and winter garden. The project will also include the construction of 50 St Regis-branded residences, with a significant volume of commercial, retail and office space. The hotel and residences project will be the first of its kind in Astana. The launch has been timed to coincide with Expo 2017.
“For Hill, our work to build the major facilities for Expo 2017 will be a great reference, ” Gucar said.
Images courtesy of Hill International