By James Ogul
Astana Expo 2017 [Kazakhstan] opens June 10 for a three-month run. As a world’s fair in the category of Specialized Expo, Astana ‘17 is smaller in scale and shorter in duration than Milan Expo 2015, Shanghai 2010 or the pending Dubai 2020 (all six-month events). Its theme is “Future Energy.” This mega-event also celebrates the 25th anniversary of the young republic of Kazakhstan.
The lead design contract for the Expo was awarded to Chicago based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. The 280-acre site has been developed with a central theme pavilion (the eight-story, 262-foot-diameter sphere housing the National Pavilion of Kazakhstan and the Museum of Future Energy), performance venues and accommodations for 115 participating countries and 18 international organizations.
Five million visits projected
Astana ’17 organizers projected an attendance total of 5 million visits, with 85 percent from Kazakhstan, and 15 percent from abroad. The latter are mostly expected from the 10 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan and in addition, China. A significant number are also expected from Europe, Turkey and the United States. The average daily visitation estimate is 55,301, with peak-day attendance projected at 110,602.
To boost attendance from overseas, Kazakhstan is lifting visa requirements for 38 countries this year. The countries that will be visa-free are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech-Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the US.
The international body regulating world’s fairs is the Paris-based, Bureau International des Exhibitions (BIE). In 2012, the BIE conducted a competition and awarded the opportunity to host Expo ’17; Kazakhstan was selected on November 22 of that year, winning over Liege, Belgium.
Pavilion prep underway
Astana’s international participants will install and operate their pavilion exhibits within buildings provided by the Expo. Pavilion spaces are provided rent free by the Expo and range in size from 3,154 square feet to 15,726 square feet. In this, Astana follows the usual model for a three-month specialized world’s fair such as Astana or the 2012 expo in Yeosu, Korea. (In contrast, at six-month world’s fairs, many participants design their own buildings.)
It takes a lot of people to operate an expo pavilion. For example, at Yeosu 2012 the US had 50-60 people on board. Multiply that by the number of participants and you have significant housing needs. To accommodate the pavilion staffs, organizers built a 1,374-apartment campus within the Astana expo grounds.
At this writing, participating countries were actively preparing their pavilions. The UK contracted with the Nussli Group to join its project team as construction manager. In a conversation with Expo organizers, Chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Hiroyuki Ishige was reported saying that in its pavilion, the government of Japan would present the most advanced technological developments in the sphere of renewable energy. Tomiyasu Nakamura, Commissioner of the Japanese Section at Expo 2017, listed the Japanese companies involved in its preparation, including Toyota Motor Corporation, Toshiba, Sumitomo Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
France was quick to step up and become a participant in Astana ’17. In a recent meeting with Expo organizers, Commissioner of the National Section of France Paskal Loro spoke of preparations being on schedule and said, “We were the first to sign the Expo 2017 participation contract. We were among the first countries which received the keys to our pavilion.”
Participants and organizers meet with the BIE
More than 300 representatives of participating countries recently met with representatives of the Astana Expo 2017 National Company (the official Expo organizing entity) for a detailed presentation and tour of the Expo site. This final, formal meeting gave organizers and participants the opportunity to discuss preparations and any outstanding issues ranging from regulations and communications to accreditation and security.
Cultural programming was also discussed. During its 93-day run, Astana Expo 17 will be the site of more than 3,000 themed, cultural and entertainment events. In addition, each country will have a National Day where the Expo recognizes that country with special events and a formal ceremony.
The Commissioners of all BIE member nations also met, to elect 22 members to a steering committee that will liaise with organizers before and during the Expo, chaired by Romas Jankauskas, Commissioner of the Lithuania Pavilion.
BIE Secretary General Vicente G. Loscertales, reaffirmed at the meeting the importance of close cooperation at such an advanced stage of planning. He said, “The site, the theme and the international participation all give great potential to this Specialized Expo. Its success is now in the hands of organizers, participants, and of course, the public.”
US, UN and Cirque du Soleil
The US was the 115th country to sign up following months of private sector fundraising to secure the necessary funding for a US presence at Astana. The US is one of the few countries in the world that does not spend government funds for expo pavilions. Though a Memorandum of Agreement, USAP Expo 2017 will manage the US Pavilion project with BRC Imagination Arts in charge of design and fabrication. US Ambassador George Krol, the Commissioner for the US Pavilion, and Chairman of the National Company Astana EXPO-2017, Akhmetzhan Yesimov, signed an agreement on US participation during a ceremony in Astana on February 24, 2017.
Having signed the agreement, the US began preparing for Astana in earnest. Commissioner Krol said: “We are enthusiastic about US participation in Expo 2017. The theme of ‘Future Energy’ is closely related to the principles of our bilateral relations. There is a lot of work ahead of us related to designing the US Pavilion. In the pavilion, American companies will be able to demonstrate their technological achievements using ‘infinite energy.’” The USA Pavilion website is www.usapavilion2017.org.
In addition to the activities associated with building and operating the Astana expo site, Astana EXPO-2017 has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the UN World Tourism Organization to hold a joint conference on “Tourism and the Energy of the Future” in Astana during the Expo in late June. Tourism ministers from 150 countries are expected to participate. And recently, Cirque du Soleil announced it will present 71 performances at Expo 2017 throughout its run. The performance will be inspired by the expo theme and the rich cultural heritage of Kazakhstan.
“A fantastic outcome”
World’s fairs are temporary events. When Astana Expo 2017 is over, the grounds will be closed and the participants will have from September 20 to December 15 to dismantle and remove their exhibits. But what of the expo site and buildings?
Primary incentives for hosting a world’s fair are land development and infrastructure, as well as stimulation of tourism and trade. Some host cities and regions have more success than others in creating and implementing their post-use and legacy plans. Historically, iconic elements of world’s fairs have been preserved – such as the Eiffel Tower, the Atomium in Brussels, and the Space Needle in Seattle – but in a first in the modern history of Expos, the entire Astana Expo will be repurposed.
Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev announced the establishment of the Astana International Financial Center at the expo site following Astana Expo 2017. Set to officially launch on January 1, 2018, the AIFC will use the innovative infrastructure already built for the event. It will be modelled on Dubai’s financial center. The National Bank and the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange will relocate to the AIFC from Almaty.
Expo 2017 Astana will soon open to the public, and from all accounts its planners are delivering a first rate, world-class event. The expo will be a source of pride for the citizens of Kazakhstan and will be talked about for years to come. For international visitors, it will be an opportunity to see a part of the world new to them in many cases and enjoy a truly memorable event.
But are world’s fairs worth the huge cost? Many question this even as visitors pour through the gates and cities vie to become hosts. Charles Hendry, Commissioner of the UK National Pavilion at Astana, expressed a valid take on this issue in an interview with the Astana Times. He said, “I know people often look at events like this and think, ‘Oh, that’s an awful lot of money they’re spending.’ We had exactly that before the opening of the Olympics in London in 2012. The press was critical and they would try to find faults in many aspects of it. But once it started, everybody joined the celebration. It became, I think for all of us living in the UK, one of the happiest times we’ve ever lived through and it brought the whole country together. I hope that people here will find in Expo something which will inspire, excite and change people’s lives. People will come to Expo and think, ‘I really didn’t know that was possible.’ And that’s what I want to do. I want to be part of that and that would be a fantastic outcome.”