You are looking at archived content. The hot new stuff is happening at Veerle's blog 3.0. You should check it out!

Feb 16

The Atomium restored

2006 at 01.59 am posted by Veerle Pieters

France has its Eiffel Tower and we Belgians have our Atomium, a replica of an iron molecule with nine aluminum spheres. It was built for the World Fair of 1958 in Belgium. Its engineer André Waterkeyn came up with the idea in 1954 to celebrate scientific progress. The event was the first after the New York world fair and the first world fair for Belgium since 1935.

Expo 58 opened its doors to the public on April 17th and lasted 6 months until October 19th of 1958. below are some of the original posters. I love the 50’s vintage look.

Orginal posters of Expo 58

Place to be was the Heysel site, a park on the northern outskirts of Brussels. 52 countries participated with more than 150 pavilions. The central theme was “A world view - A new humanism” Expo 58 had more then than 41 million visitors from all over the world.

Now back to the Atomium, an emblem of an industrial boom after the war in Belgium and optimism about nuclear energy. During the expo visitors could travel the tubes that connect the spheres to see an exhibition called Atom Equals Hope.After the World fair ended people are still interested in the strange silhouette and it became a touristic attraction partly due to its size and weight. It weights 2.400 Metric tons and its height is 102 metres/335 ft. The Spheres have a diameter of 18 metres /59ft.

Original art from the 50's

Over the years many ideas or roles came to life such as a casino or a museum dedicated to the Belgian cartoon character Tintin. Like with many things in life the future became insecure when politicians were campaigning to demolish it because of the fear of renovation costs. Luckily common sense prevailed and a nonprofit save-the-Atomium group was founded. They sold 1,000 1,8 metres/6 foot limited edition triangular pieces for 1000 Euro each. So they started with a budget of 1 million Euro and the rest was covered by the city of Brussels, the Belgian government and private donations. The renovation budget was a 27 million Euro.

The new Atomium, photo by ATOMIUM ASBL

To get all this done 600 laborers worked non-stop for about 22 months to rebuild it piece by piece. It took rope specialists from around the world to do the outside work. The Atomium now has space for art exhibitions, a special party space, an observation gallery, a children’s sphere and meeting rooms. Lighting in the escalators and stairs is designed by Ingo Maurer. There is also an elevator with a glass ceiling that leads to the new upscale restaurant.

The party space sphere has a ceiling fixture with a suspended fiberglass-and-aluminum plate, 4 metres/14 feet in diameter and is lighted with a cobalt halo. Around the fixture are eleven small plastic human figures that hover like astronauts around a spacecraft. In the children’s sphere you’ll find a molecule-like structure using 30 soft polyurethane balls to represent H2O, the formula for water. It was designed by Alicia Framis, a Spanish artist that was inspired by the rainy weather in Brussels. Nice :-)




permalink this comment Pat Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.36 am

I’m glad to see that Brussels has renoved her Atomium. I visited it more than 10 years ago and I found it very impressive. Unfortunately, it was in a pretty bad shape… now that it has been renovated, I have to come back to Brussels to see it again!!



permalink this comment Peter Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.37 am

I have mixed feelings about the Atomium. It is original, impressive and shows proof of architectual bravery and skill. However, its draconic copyright policy on usage of images of the building make it unfit to use as the ‘image’ of Belgium, like the Eiffel tower is for France.

If Mr. Waterkeyn paid for the building, I would be OK with that, but if it has been paid for by the Belgian taxpayer, then somehow the government got tricked into a bad deal.

Which means we’re stuck with Manneke Pis ...



permalink this comment Andy Georges Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.38 am

I visited it once, 22 years ago, and I was rather impressed. Of course, I was only 6 at the time, so that could explain the awe. Still, it was high time they finally did something about it.

When driving on the E40 over Vilvoorde, you can now see it glinster in the (rare) sun. Nice.



permalink this comment Veerle Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.39 am

@Peter: Wow, I didn’t know that information. Now I have mixed feelings too and it sure doesn’t feel right. I understand the copyright if you want to make money from it, but Belgium the country must be allowed to use it in the promotion of our country. The more people who visit the better.



permalink this comment Vanhalle Jean-Christophe Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.39 am

Wouldn’t be the last time our government got tricked, look at the F1 scandal :(

@Veerle: Is that a recent picture of the Atomium? Does it look like that now? It’s really pretty.



permalink this comment Veerle Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.40 am

@Jean-Christophe: Yes that’s a recent picture of how it looks now with the original lightening like it was in 1958.



permalink this comment Piet Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.41 am

Wasn’t it build because the Belgians wanted to show off their craftmanship with steel. I always thought that was the reason.



permalink this comment Mario De Zutter Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.42 am

Hi Veerle,

Nice article but be carefull with photographs and pictures of the Atomium (SABAM)!

See also: Wikipedia



permalink this comment Veerle Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.42 am

@Mario: Thanks and yes I know but I’m doing them a favor by writing something positive about it, and who knows maybe some of my forreign readers will visit it next time when they come to Belgium. I am actively promoting my country and I have nothing to gain personally, it is just good for the tourist sector. If SABAM wants to add some negative publicity to their already bruised image they sure will be on the right address here if they demand that I remove it. Like Peter said we paid it for by taxes.



permalink this comment Raven Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.43 am

There was a major party in the Atomium before it closed for renovations. It must have been somewhere around 1999 or so. It was a Poplife party and probably one of the best, coolest kick-ass parties I ever went to. The roads were completely covered in snow, we had to wait an hour in line to get in, the atmosphere was mesmerizing. We left around 4:30 in the morning and the drive back to Gent took about 90 minutes because it was so dangerous. We saw cars that had gone of the road and drove no faster than 50km/h. But it was definitely worth it !
May these good times come back again !!!



permalink this comment Blair Christopher Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.44 am


I learn so much from your blog Veerle. I find this really cool as I do not know much about your part of the world. It’s a great mix of helpful creative tips and links with a little bit of personal background.

Keep it up as usual.



permalink this comment mike Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.45 am

Awesome! I was unaware of this structure and now very interested. Some day I’ll have to head over for a visit. I work for a science museum in the US and its too bad we don’t have something that cool.



permalink this comment John Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.46 am

Interesting building… now if only the website was finished :(

All the links are “Could not connect to mySQL Server.”



permalink this comment Chris R. Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.48 am

I haven’t been inside the atomium yet but i’ve seen the outside several times, actually accidentally drove my car into the construction yard once. Boy was i happy that they weren’t removing the alluminium plates at the time, would have be really really bad if one came down at that exact time.

But anyhow, i’m really impressed by the work the construction workers pulled off in the amount of time they had. It looks very very impressive



permalink this comment derekb Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.49 am

The Atomium really looks good now in daylight, all shiny and new. But go and see it at night. It looks good on the picture, but the lights are awful. They’re blinking and moving in different patterns, just like some cheap christmas decoration! aargh…



permalink this comment Napfisk Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.51 am

I posted on the Atomium opening today too. Research on the subject didn’t render many results though, except for this one of course (so I linked ).

I wouldn’t worry about the photograph /copyright issue. After all, any pic on your blog - as long as the posts aren’t litigable themselves - only serves as additional info and promotion (so you could say ‘the Atomium’ but not show it?) Humbug! I haven’t heard of one blogger being sued over an image ever.

Overall, this blog’s a real find! Well written, fun, interesting and nearly every category could be one I’d choose as well. Instant fan here!



permalink this comment Alexander Berglund Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 09.52 am

Sweet… Looking awesome. Actually As I browsed the web looking at the 3D-program called “Rhino” and looked closer to a 3d-modellers webpage I came across this,  Atomium v1.0 for SimCity 4 which looks really awesome!

Be sure to credit Anders Backlund at Nacka Akademin for it! =D

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.


buy something from my Amazon wishlist