The Atomium, one of Brussels most beautiful buildings. But also, one of the most bizarre looking structures in the whole of Europe. Yet, it’s an awesome sight to behold. At daytime, the shiny spheres beautifully reflect the sunlight. At night, hundreds of lights illuminate the spheres, making it a delight to the eyes.
The Atomium is 102 metres high, and has 9 large spheres, each measuring 18 metres in diameter. The spheres are connected with each other by 20 tubes, each 3 metres in diameter. The center tubes are fitted with an elevator, the others have staircases. The Atomium has the shape of an iron crystal, magnified approximately about 165 billion times.
The Atomium was built for the 1958 Brussels world fair, called “Expo 58”. It was designed by engineer André Waterkyn and architects André Polak and Jean Polak. The plan was that the building would only last until the end of the world fair, afterwards it would be torn down again. But because of its popularity this idea was dropped, and it remains one of the key landmarks and tourist attraction in Brussels.
The Atomium was built during the height of the atomic age, which started at the end of the second world war. It represented the faith people had in atomic energy, and in technical and scientific progress as a whole. Nuclear energy was seen as a clean and reliable energy source, it was seen as the future. The belief in nuclear energy was the inspiration for the design of the building. The building depicts an iron crystal. One iron crystal is made out of 9 iron atoms, these are represented by the spheres. It must be noted though, that an iron crystal has nothing to do with atomic power, it cannot be used as a fuel in nuclear reactions.
The 9 spheres where originally covered in aluminum plating. During a huge renovation lasting from March 2004 till February 2007 the aluminum was replaced by stainless steel. Pieces of the old sheeting were even sold to help pay for the renovations. One piece of about 2 metres was sold for 1.000 euro.
Only 6 spheres are open to the public, the other 3 are technical spheres. The top sphere contains a restaurant, with a very nice panoramic view of Brussels. The other spheres are mostly used for expositions. There is a permanent exposition about the Atomium itself and the 1958 exposition. There are also a lot of temporary expositions spanning a wide variety of subjects such as art, architecture, sound and light. Moving from sphere to sphere using the staircases is an adventure on itself, often compared to a journey in a spaceship.
The Atomium is a great piece of art. It’s impressive on the outside, as well as on the inside. It has a unique look and it more than deserves its place in the Brussels skyline. We are lucky they didn’t knock it down after the 1958 world fair, and hopefully it can be enjoyed for many years to come.