A section of a building bang in the center of the EXPO-2017 village in Astana — a project intended as a modern showcase for Kazakhstan — has collapsed only months before the fair was due to kick into high gear.
Organizers and builders went into quick response mode on November 16, hours after the incident occurred.
“Everything with the building is fine, but between the pavilions there was a decorative bridge construction. It did indeed collapse,” said Sergei Kuyanov, public relations director for the state-run Astana EXPO-2017 group organizing the exhibition. “I don’t know what the reason was. This building was created by BI Group. They said that they have called in the designer and that the company’s management would deal with this and rebuild.”
Kuyanov said Astana EXPO-2017 had not yet taken the affected building under management and that the contractor would have to assume the costs of reconstruction.
BI Group said nobody was injured in the collapse, which took place just after 1 pm.
“The general contractor is a daughter company of the BI Group holding group,” the company said in a statement. “According to the head of the project, Ibragim Zhekeyev, the partially destroyed construction was not a supporting structure and was a decorative addition to the project.”
The emphasis on the decorative aspect of the feature appeared designed to distract from the potential harm to human life the incident might have caused had it happened during the full flow of the fair. And while the affected section may or may not have been a supporting structure, its description as a bridge strongly suggests it was at least intended to carry the weight of people walking across it.
Indeed, health officials in Astana have said that a 26-year old man is being treated for injuries sustained in the incident.
An eyewitness told media that the section involved stood between two pavilions and that the incident happened during lunch break, which meant few workers were around.
“I was lucky. Two minutes before it all happened, I walked past there. I went into the pavilion and then I heard such a sound. It was as though there was an earthquake,” the witness, Nikolai Kostenko, said. “If they are going to rebuild all this, it will be hard to manage it within the required timeframe. It took them a year to build the [glass overpasses].”
That notwithstanding, BI Group representative Almas Shukenov confidently declared reconstruction would be completed within a month.
It is hard to know who is coming out more red-faced in this whole affair.
BI Group was boasting about the pace of works on November 1, saying that construction was being completed to international standards and that operations were being overseen by the Astana EXPO-2017 organizing committee, as well as city and national government officials. At the same press conference, company representatives spoke about which projects they had completed successfully. They included the bridge that collapsed on November 16.
“The length of the bridge built on the grounds of the fair that connects pavilions to the “Best Practices Zone” was 76 meters long and weighs 300 tons. The bridge is decorative and consists entirely of welded joins with sliding supports. Despite the complexity of the construction, we managed to dismantle temporary supports and lower the bridge, thereby observing the design height,” Zhekeyev told reporters earlier this month.
In a hubristic public relations flourish, BI Group explained to reporters that it had adopted the Japanese management philosophy of Kaizen and applied the principles of something called lean construction so as to allow for more efficient workflows and to complete projects in a timely fashion.
That being so, authorities may hope that BI Group’s other work is not done on such “lean” principles.
One of the other projects being carried out by BI Group-Construction, which is doing the building at EXPO-2017, is the construction of several hundreds of kilometers of highway as part of the grand Nurly Zhol stimulus program. It was scheduled to build 151 kilometers of road in 2016 alone.