A weekend in…

The awe-in­spir­ing Atomium

If one build­ing has put Brus­sels on the map, it must be the Atomium. This steel giant from the ‘50s is one of the most mod­ern con­struc­tions in the city to date. It con­sists of nine in­ter­con­nected spheres, which made it the crown jewel of the 1958 World Fa

- Arts · Architecture · Paris · Democratic Republic of Congo · Japan · United States of America · Canada · Soviet Union · Union · Netherlands · Coca-Cola Company · Royal Philips Electronics · Belgium · North Brabant · Flemish Brabant

EXPO ‘58

Like Paris, Brus­sels owes its most fa­mous build­ing to the lucky fact that the World Fair came to the city. Brus­sels had the hon­our host­ing the first big fair since the Sec­ond World War. Its goal was to show the vis­i­tors the de­lights of the mod­ern world: cars, es­ca­la­tors and state-of-the-art ar­chi­tec­ture. But not ev­ery­thing was as mod­ern as you might imag­ine; as Congo was still a Bel­gian colony at the time, back in ‘58, the fair also hosted a hu­man zoo, where African peo­ple were ‘ex­hib­ited’. Luck­ily, most pavil­ions were more taste­ful than that. Coun­tries like Ja­pan, the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and the Nether­lands built a pavil­ion each to un­veil their history and fu­ture to the world, and so did many multi­na­tion­als, such as Coca Cola and Philips. The bright­est star of the event, how­ever, was the mas­sive con­struc­tion that is the Atomium.


The ex­tra­or­di­nary shape of the Atomium is that of an iron mol­e­cule, but 165 bil­lion times big­ger. It was an ode to the iron in­dus­try, the sec­tor that made Bel­gium great dur­ing the first half of the cen­tury. Iron­i­cally, the build­ing it­self wasn’t made from that same trust­wor­thy Bel­gian iron, but from alu­minium, a metal that had just gained pop­u­lar­ity for its cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance. The nine spheres sym­bol­ised the nine Bel­gian prov­inces, but in 1995, the prov­ince of Bra­bant was split into three parts: Flem­ish Bra­bant, Wal­loon Bra­bant and the Brus­sels Cap­i­tal Re­gion. Since then, the po­lit­i­cal mean­ing of these nine balls has been some­what lost.


As the Atomium was not built to last, the years started show­ing on the shiny ex­te­rior. As a re­sult, four decades af­ter its erec­tion, it re­ceived a much-needed facelift. Its alu­minium sur­face was stripped off en­tirely and re­placed by shiny, stain­less steel. The 1,000 tri­an­gu­lar pan­els needed for the restora­tion ar­rived as a big, mod­u­lar build­ing kit, ready to be as­sem­bled. As steel is much heav­ier than alu­minium, the Atomium 2.0 weighs about 100 tonnes more than the orig­i­nal. Be­sides the

change of ma­te­ri­als, the ren­o­va­tion also came with a few ar­chi­tec­ton­i­cal tweaks. The ceil­ing of the el­e­va­tor is now made of glass, so pas­sen­gers can fully ex­pe­ri­ence the speed with which it’s mov­ing. At night, an el­e­gant pat­tern of built-in LED lights gives the balls their beau­ti­ful glow, so the build­ing can be seen from all over Brus­sels.


To­day, five of the spheres are open to vis­i­tors. These con­tain a permanent ex­hi­bi­tion, a temporary ex­hi­bi­tion, a space ded­i­cated purely to the stun­ning, panoramic views, and a restau­rant mak­ing the most of the same. The other balls are tech­ni­cal spa­ces and event venues. The permanent ex­hi­bi­tion stretches out across three spheres and tells the story of the build­ing's con­struc­tion, de­cline and ren­o­va­tion. The panorama sphere of­fers you daz­zling, 360-de­gree panoramic views from 92 me­tres above the ground. In the top sphere, you can en­joy Bel­gian clas­sics with a view. You can hop in for lunch or a drink at any time, or make a reser­va­tion for din­ner.

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