What is the secret of these interconnecting spheres, way up in the sky in Brussels, Belgium?
It’s not a tower, nor pyramid. It’s a structure, sculpture maybe. It’s spherical with a futuristic look, painting the Brussels skyline. It owns a history and a meaning to some. It’s the symbol of Brussels, even Belgium maybe. There is a museum and even a kids hotel where kids can sleep in small spheres. It has been renovated completely before 2008, marking its 50th anniversary. It’s something the people of Belgium want to hold on to, being the icon of the World Expo of Brussels in 1958.
For some people the structure is more than just a museum and a hotel. It’s all about progress! Back in those days it tried to offer people faith in progress, both technical as well as scientific.
For example, it carries the message of using atomic energy peacefully, representing an elementary iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. And how about building this kind of progressive structure back in 1958, I believe many were scared it would collapse! The structure wasn’t planned to survive the World Expo, but it still stands with pride: the one and only Atomium in Brussels, Belgium.
Covered in fog
The last time I visited the Atomium was back in my childhood (surprisingly the same goes for all the Belgian people I met at the Atomium that day. But I guess that’s the same with all landmarks close to your home: you tend to forget to visit them, leave that up to tourists).
I still had some vague memories of how it looked like. When I came out of the close-by Heizel subway station most of the Atomium was covered in fog. The structure slowly became clearer when I approached it (as did my childhood memories for that matter).
The pictures in the mist and grey sky contribute to the mysterious feeling you get when watching the Atomium for the first time. Nine interconnected spheres reaching 102 meters high, on this day in February being swallowed by the ruthless fog.
Of course you can enter the Atomium and you should! Permanent and temporary exhibitions are being organised and the interior design is wonderful. It’s futuristic (Alien meets the Jetsons) but still cosy because of the size and shape of each single sphere.
Why do some structures become landmarks? How come people start to identify a country with a single landmark? Such a landmark slowly becomes part of the local identity, to an extent that after a while you don’t care about it but you can also not live without it.
I would like to end this post with a quote from Diane Hennebert, former Director of the Atomium:
The story of the Atomium is, above all, one of love, the love that the Belgians have for an extraordinary structure symbolising a frame of mind that wittily combines aesthetic daring with technical mastery. The appearance of the Atomium is unusual and unforgettable. It has a rare quality of lifting everyone’s spirits and firing their imagination.
P.S. During the renovation, all the spheres were stripped from its faded aluminium sheets. The spheres were covered with new sheets of stainless steel. Did you know that the original aluminium sheets were sold to the public in order to pay for the renovation?
I can imagine you want to see a sunny picture of the Atomium! Just click here for a great picture by Matt Long from Landlopers.
“© www.atomium.be – SABAM 2011 – Emiel van den Boomen”