World Expo 2025: Selecting the right construction delivery model in Japan
Japan’s second city, Osaka, is set to welcome some 28 million visitors over six months from April 2025 as it plays host to the next World Expo, traditionally held every five years. Two years out, countries planning to exhibit at Expo 2025 should be focused on identifying the right delivery model for developing, constructing and operating their pavilion on time and on budget.
There are traditionally three delivery model approaches for the execution of planning, construction, commissioning and operational launch of pavilion facilities. While each model comes with different points of responsibility, control and supply chain engagement, the common denominator to successful delivery is the ability to build a local team able to navigate the complexities presented by unfamiliar language, customs and regulations.
1. Project management consultancy (PMC)
Based on a traditional procurement model, the PMC process provides managed support to coordinate the various designer, contractor and specialist vendor inputs to ensure execution of the project in accordance with the client's scope of work and Japanese regulations.
Recognised for its efficiency, this approach offers up a strong balance of client-side input and intelligence from the market, allowing the appropriate skill sets to be onboarded at the right time.
Most significantly, the PMC model also provides a greater level of control and input into the final product. For pavilion participants, a consultant with strong project-management credentials will help represent their interests in an unfamiliar market, effectively implementing project processes aligned to their requirements.
As a delivery model, it is well suited to all types and sizes of pavilions as it can be shaped to suit the preferences of the country. In addition, countries will be able to take a hands-on approach to the overall project development, giving them the most control over the outcome of their pavilion.
The turnkey option is a one-stop shop, full outsourcing arrangement encompassing design, procurement, fit-out construction, permitting, handover and facilities management.
For smaller pavilions potentially challenged by complex procurement constraints or for fast-track programmes it has straightforward appeal, marked as it is by a single point of responsibility and contact.
The turnkey approach does, however, demand strong scope definition and comes with limited control over design, or the ability to mitigate against risk with modifications, should the project encounter headwinds. Success also relies heavily on the ability to source highly-capable and dedicated delivery partners.
3. Design competition with a PMC overlay
Some participants have invited architects to participate in a design competition to benefit from industry inspiration in relation to the World Expo 2025 key themes, as opposed to driving a pre-ordained outcome. This brings with it accelerated speed to construction, since there will be reduced governance and input surrounding the pre-construction phase.
While proposals will be informed by budget and scheduling considerations, such that the design company becomes, in effect, accountable, there remains the requirement to engage with the local market to source a suitable contractor to manage the relevant construction.
As such, for countries seeking to prioritise the design element in this way to generate a rich body of ideas, and with the requisite resources to hand, a PMC overlay may represent the best solution. This approach enables an independent and experienced PMC firm to manage the competition and head off problems further down the line, or for greater peace of mind and operational advantage, to superintend the entire project across its lifespan.
Under this scenario, a high degree of client-side authority is the trade off in exchange for a richer design and a more hands-off approach.
How best to deliver the vision
Expo 2025’s theme is ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives’, while sub-themes of ‘Saving’, ‘Empowering’ and ‘Connecting Lives’ serve to provide additional guidance to country participants seeking to give expression to their achievements, credentials and vision in respect of the overarching idea.
Decisions regarding the most appropriate delivery model must be informed by an understanding that overruns cannot be tolerated.
World Expos present something of an anomalous landscape, synonymous as they are with finite timelines, competition for resources, and mystifying host country markets demanding local expertise and ample budget contingency.
In the case of Japan, costs can swiftly mount up as one of the most expensive countries to build in globally, while the country is also marked by unique working practices which require local support and understanding. This means choosing to progress alone, where even third-party PMC checks and validations are dispensed in favour of full jurisdiction, which can present a reputational and financial risk.
Countries without strong pre-existing relationships in the Japanese market are likely to encounter local contractors with full order books, while those that could accommodate new business may lack the appetite or the capability to engage directly with international clients. Bilingual capabilities tend to be limited in Tier 2 and 3 contractors, and, therefore, countries are more likely to require external bilingual support also.
Intermediaries unlock doors
Country pavilions must be ready for pre-opening checks and verifications before Osaka 2025 officially opens on 13 April 2025. Some countries already have a clear vision for their pavilion and have started the process of materialising their vision. For those still seeking inspiration for a blank canvas, or that haven’t yet understood the supply chain and procurement dynamics in Osaka, the time to act is now.
With the need to design, construct, manage and decommission pavilions within a compact timeframe, it’s fair to say it’s all in the planning.
Those that endeavour to rein in costs through bringing all processes in-house will likely find this to be a false economy in Japan. And especially so in Expo-infused Osaka.
In what is still very much a relationship-led economy, access to on the ground-project management knowhow and local contacts is sure to prove invaluable in preventing costs from spiralling and to ensuring successful delivery – regardless of which delivery model is selected in the end. And with the right partner in place to do the coordinating legwork, countries can feel sufficiently confident to retain executive control over all key aspects of the project.
Image provided by: Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition.