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The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

Translated by Dáire Toal — 14 days ago

Original text by Patricia Saiz Díaz

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

The Atomium is the quintessential image of Brussels, along with the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis (which is a shame in my opinion).

To get there, take the Line 1 metro De Brouckère-Gare de l'Ouest. Get off at Beekkant and take the Line 6 towards Roi Baudouin, getting off at Heysel station. As we approached the station we could already see the Atomium to the right, 5 minutes walk from the exit of the station. You can also take other tram lines, like the 81 or the 19 from De Wand, but in my opinion the easiest way to get there is by metro.

The Atomium entry fees are:

  • Adult (19-59): 11€
  • Student: 8€
  • Young people (12-18); older people (60+): 8€
  • Children (6-11): 6€
  • People with disabilities and children under 5: free

As well, there are plenty of combo tickets and promotions which get you in to both the Atomium and Mini Europe (for groups of more than 20 people). It is open 365 days a year from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. Last entry is at 5. 30 p. m.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

The Atomium is considered to be 'a piece of architectural magic and cultural joy', a notable feature of the Brussels skyline made up of 9 spheres. It isn't classed as a tower, or a pyramid, nor really a building. It is halfway between a structure and a sculpture. A relic from the past and a totally futuristic image. You could only find something like this in Brussels; no other structure from the time comes even close to it, which is why you just cannot classify it.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

I will start with a little bit of history...

The Atomium of Brussels was built for the Universal Exposition held in the European capital in 1958. Just like the Eiffel Tower, its construction was heavily criticised. The architect was André Waterkeyn, who presented an initially surprising proposal: a true representation of the 9 atoms of an alpha iron crystal which stand out in the middle of the Exposition, beside Laeken castle, at a scale of 1:150, 000, 000, 000. The first problem to address was understanding how the wind would affect the Atomium. The effects on just one sphere can be calculated just by knowing its dimensions; the same cannot be said for the 9 spheres connected relatively closely by relatively wide tubes. They had to test it out on a scale model. This task was given to the engineer M. A. Joukoff.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

"The Atomium is a symbol of our age, in which scientists have deepened our understanding of matter. They have shown that it is made up of condensed energy, which is usable, if this is what man wants for the greatest good of civilisation and to encourage technical and scientific jobs to young people. If this comes about, the effort will not have been in vain. ' - André Waterkeyn.

In principle, the Atomium was only meant to stand for the 6 months of the Universal Exposition, but its endurance is due to its popularity and the success it has been as a reference point and emblem for Brussels, first on a European level and ultimately on the world stage.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

The Atomium offers the public plenty of attractions: a surreal journey through its tubes and spheres; one of the most impressive views of the Brussels skyline from its highest sphere; a restaurant which gives you panoramic views from 95 metres up over the city while you make the most of their menu offering some traditional Belgian specialities; a permanent exhibit on the history of the Atomium and the Expo 58; varied temporary exhibits which I discussed in a previous entry; the opportunity to hire out one of the spheres for private events, conferences, parties, business meetings etc.; and a gift shop with some very original items. There are audio guides available to give detail on the different parts of your visit and a guidebook which you can download to your phone.

The total height of the Atomium is 102 metres, the diameter of the spheres is 18 metres, and the diameter of the tubes is 3. 5 metres. The length of one tube is between 23 and 26 metres. As for mass, the Atomium weighs 2, 500, 000 kilograms (prior to renovation it was 2, 400, 000). To get from the base to the bottom you have to climb 80 steps, but on the way down there are 167!

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

To get to the top sphere (level 7), the one that gives you the best views of the city, the 360º panorama, you can only take the lift that takes you direct from the bottom. There are breathtaking views (some prefer going by night, others by night), though when I was there it was late and raining so I could not fully appreciate their beauty. I am hoping to go back to appreciate it more during the day. In that sphere there are also panels to explain what some of the main buildings that you can see in the distance are, as well as the distance to various Belgian and European cities.

There are 3 spheres that you cannot visit because they are not fully supported, so the weight of crowds could damage the structure.

In the lowest sphere (levels 1 and 2) we found the temporary exhibition "Atomium: from symbol to icon" which took us back through the 55 years of history of the Atomium with posters, illustrations, videos on-screen and objects from the time like stamps, envelopes, Atomium tickets, money, newspapers, magazines etc... all of which was made for it.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

In the central sphere and an outer one joined to the first (levels 3, 4, and 5) you can find the temporary exhibits on art, design, architecture and society (for me it was the exhibit 'Orange Dreams', as I said in a previous entry).

The other two spheres that I have not so far mentioned are reserved for all sorts of events, which you can reserve in advance with the Atomium team or at, and for children's entertainment, with a ballpit, children's toys, art tables and various forms of amusement.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

There are lots of stairs to get from one level to another within one sphere, and escalators to get you from one sphere to another normally. They all have a futuristic vibe, like a space ship or a submarine - it was like I was living in a Star Wars movie. It was an unforgettable experience that I never would have otherwise tried. I was not expecting it to be so futuristic, especially when I knew the time in which it was built in which it was quite unusual to see such modern, contemporary and futuristic interior decoration and design.

At the end, in the entrance hall near the exit we found ourselves by the shop, which along with selling hundreds of gifts and souvenirs, also has unusual futurist objects on display in glass cases.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

As for the exterior illumination at night which is so impressive to tourists, it is achieved with little circular light panels in the structure, all space 1. 5 metres apart, right the way around every sphere. These lights turn on and off constantly and give the impression of luminous points in the centre of larger circles, which all makes the viewer think that there are pulses of light from different parts of the sphere. The idea for this comes from the image of electrons rotating around every atom in an iron crystal.

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

The Atomium, futuristic and timeless

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