By indexer
2 years ago

The Atomium, Brussels

Probably the best-known example of a “temporary” structure that has achieved permanence is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. However, the same is also true of one of Belgium’s renowned landmarks, the Atomium in Heysel Park, Brussels.

The Atomium was built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, otherwise known as Expo 58. This was the first such event to be held after the Second World War and it took place at a time of both hope and tension, given that major scientific advances were being made at the same time that the world’s major powers were eyeing each other with suspicion during the Cold War.

1958 was the year that saw the birth of NASA and the launch of the integrated circuit. The Soviet Union had, the year before, sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. At Expo 58 the United States and the Soviet Union were next-door neighbours in their pavilions, and they took every opportunity to score points off each other. The motto of the Fair: “A World View – A New Humanism”, seemed to be wildly optimistic.

Belgium, a small European nation that had suffered invasion and devastation in both of the century’s world wars, could not compete in terms of scientific or technical advances, but its contribution to Expo 58 is the only substantial survivor that can still be visited today. This is a massively magnified model of a cell of an iron crystal, some 165 billion times larger than “life size”. It comprises nine globes, each being 59 feet (18 metres) in diameter, connected by straight tubes through which staircases and escalators provide access to the spheres. The whole structure appears to stand on one of the spheres, so that the Atomium is tipped up, with one sphere on each corner and the ninth at the centre. Each sphere, apart from the central one, therefore connects with three other spheres, plus the centre. The Atomium stands 335 feet high (102 metres).

The Atomium was only intended to stand for six months but was regarded as such an innovative structure, and so symbolic of the atomic age, that it was allowed to stay in place.

It was designed by engineer André Waterkeyn with interiors by André and Michael Polak. It was based on the standard method used by scientists to represent molecular structure, and which would have been familiar to anyone who had attended school chemistry lessons where balls, representing atoms, were joined by rods to show how they linked together. This method had already escaped from the laboratory to become a staple of contemporary design, be it for chair legs, coat hooks, light fittings or tableware.

Not being designed as a permanent structure, the Atomium was looking past its best as its 50th anniversary approached, and in 2004 it was closed to the public for a major refurbishment. The original aluminium cladding was replaced by stainless steel and all the interiors were given a complete makeover. The Atomium re-opened in 2006 and it is now a major tourist attraction.

One of the spheres is devoted to a permanent exhibition on the theme of Expo 58, and there are temporary exhibitions in some of the other spheres. The topmost sphere contains a restaurant with views over Brussels and beyond. The “Kids’ Sphere” has been designed with primary school groups in mind, giving children a chance to spend a night in a “mini-sphere” as part of an overall learning experience.

At night the Atomium is illuminated with nearly 3,000 lights that give it a completely different appearance.

A visit to Brussels would not be complete without a visit to the Atomium, if only for a trip to the top sphere. A visit can be combined with one to “Mini-Europe”, also in Heysel Park, which features scale models of 350 buildings from around 80 cities in Europe.
2 years
RasmaSandra It is an interesting structure. Glad they did not take it down.
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2 years
OlgaLifeLover 2 hours driving from us
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2 years
indexer @OlgaLifeLover It look a bit longer via Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel!
2 years