Energy-sustainability expert and Expo 2017: a match made in heaven

31 января 2014, 17:23

When Aidar Marat returned to Kazakhstan from New Zealand three years ago, he was determined to make cities here energy-sustainable.

In fact, his master's thesis in Sustainability at Auckland University was “The Sustainable Development of Almaty.”

What the Almaty native learned at Auckland convinced him that sustainability would make Kazakhstan's cities more liveable by reducing their electricity and water use, their heating and cooling costs, and the level of pollution they generated.

But the young architect found few Kazakhstan design and construction companies interested in sustainability. There was a bottom-line reason: A sustainable building costs more to erect than a non-sustainable one.

Then, in early 2013, Aidar got the break of a lifetime: Expo 2017's Managing Committee asked him to head the exhibition's design team.

Expo design chief Aidar Marat (R) with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Minister of Environmental Protection Nurlan Kapparov. Kapparov chairs the national Expo company. Photo courtesty of Aidar Marat

Expo design chief Aidar Marat (R) with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Minister of Environmental Protection Nurlan Kapparov. Kapparov chairs the national Expo company. Photo courtesty of Aidar Marat

The Expo's theme was “Future Energy,” and the committee wanted to make all of the project's buildings sustainable.

That required a sustainable-energy expert – a scarce commodity in Kazakhstan. Unable to find one, Expo management asked the Bolashak overseas-scholars program for help.

Luckily, 28-year-old Aidar studied in New Zealand under the program. His name popped up on Bolashak's graduates roster, and he joined the Expo team in February of 2013.

“We kind of found each other,” he said of the way he and the rest of the exhibition team came together.

Aidar will be using a sustainable-energy concept known as the Passive House in the Expo construction, which will begin in March or April.

The German approach “is not just architectural and functional, but is energy-efficient, comfortable for the tenants and ecological,” he said.

Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture, the Chicago-based consortium that won an international competition to design Expo, said the exhibition complex will become the world's first Third Industrial Revolution city by generating its own energy entirely from renewable sources.

“Buildings will become generators of power, and their energy will be stored using innovative technology while being distributed by a smart (power) grid,” the architects noted.

The buildings will be designed to“reduce their energy needs and operate as 'power plants' that harness energy from the sun and/or wind,” added Gordon Gill, one of the partners in the Chicago consortium.

Expo 2017 venue in Astana, Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of

Here's a slide show that the Chicago consortium created to highlight some of the Expo facilities: 

Creating a sustainable community such as Expo is largely about the “orientation of the buildings and the windows,” Aidar said.

In winter the windows need to bring in as much heat as possible. In summer, they need to limit sunlight.

In addition to the spacial orientation of the structures, building materials and insulation are important, Aidar said – such as special glazing on windows to reduce the sunlight entering in summer.

If you observe Passive House rules, “you don't have to spend a lot of energy on heating and cooling,” he said.

Aidar, who got his bachelor's degree at the Leading Academy of Architectural and Civil Engineering in Almaty, said his biggest Expo challenge will be designing and helping oversee the construction of the main exhibition hall, the Kazakhstan Pavilion.

That's because he's never worked on anything so big and complex before. The eye-catching spherical-shaped pavilion, which will be at the direct center of the exhibition site, will be huge, with a diameter of 80 to 120 meters.

“The pavilion will have a transformative skin that will reduce thermal loss and reduce interior solar glare,” according to the Chicago design consortium.

Aidar said Expo's design phase will consist of four steps: concept design, schematic design, detailed design and construction blueprints.

Most of the 100 or so buildings in the exhibition are now at the schematic- or detailed-design stage, Aidar said.

“The priority buildings (such as the Kazakhstan pavilion) are in the detailed-design stage,” he said.



Although some public officials and journalists have expressed concern that Expo is behind schedule, Aidar contended it's on track.

“As soon as construction starts, however, we have to run fast – like a locomotive barrelling down the rails,” Aidar said.

The plan all along has been for most of the construction to be 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

That's been the approach that contractors have used to erect a number of Astana landmarks, such as Nazarbayev University.

Aidar is excited about the prospect of the Expo becoming “a catalyst to spread the idea of sustainable structures across Kazakhstan and the world.”

Kazakhstan is “basically a fossil-fuel-oriented country,” he said, but it needs to move to sustainability “for the sake of future generations.”

Local designers and builders will learn how to create sustainable structures as they do the exhibition work, he said. Hopefully, many will become believers, taking a sustainable approach in future projects, he said.

“You might think of the Expo as a horse,” Aidar said. “Everyone can jump on it and develop their skills.”

Small and medium-sized Kazakhstan companies in particular have an opporunity “to gain experience from international companies so they can compete better in the world,” he said.

The Expo will run for 93 days during the summer of 2017, according to Marketing and Communications Director Assel Kozhakova.

The exhibition team hopes to attract at least 50,000 visitors a day. Between 80 and 90 percent are expected to be Kazakhstan residents, Assel said.

Expo Marketing and Communications Director Assel Kozhakova. Photo courtesy of Assel Kozakova

Expo Marketing and Communications Director Assel Kozhakova. Photo courtesy of Assel Kozakova

Entertainment will be a major component of Expo, she said. About 3,000 performances are planned on the exhibition site and elsewhere in Astana.

“We expect to be the world stage for big international concerts” and other events, Assel said.

The 174-hectare complex will be built along Kabanbai Batyr Street not far from Nazarbayev University. It will consist of a 25-hectare exhibition area, cultural, educational and health-care facilities, housing, shopping centers, parks and boulevards.

More than 100 countries are expected to take part in the Expo, giving Kazakhstan and Astana its biggest international publicity splash since the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the fall of 2010.

The exhibition will have four theme pavilions of 4,000 square meters each: World Energy, Energy for Life, Energy for All, and My Future Energy.

An Energy Best Practices section that will showcase alternative energy will take up 3,500 square meters.

The 100 international pavilions will have a combined 95,000 square meters of space.

Corporate pavilions will account for about 9,000 square meters.

There will be a 14,200-square-meter performing arts center.

And a Congress Center will offer 42,000 square meters of space for conferences, forums and meetings.

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