BRUSSELS.-Designed to represent Belgium at the Universal Exhibition in 1958 in Brussels, the Atomium was intended to last only for the six months of the Expo, from 17 April to 19 October 1958. Fifty years on, this architectural masterpiece remains one of the world's best-known and most visited buildings. Attached as they are to this symbolic edifice over 100 meters high, Belgians tend to forget just how daring, creative and modern engineer André Waterkeyn's design was.
Waterkeyn's intention was to represent an iron crystal not a molecule or atom as is sometimes believed - 165 billion times its actual size, in the form of an assembly of 9 spheres connected by 20 tubes. Three years of design and construction work were required to develop and implement a project which was to shoot to international fame and contribute to the international visibility of the capital of Europe. The Architects were André and Jean Polak.
The Atomium, which had aged over the years, was entirely renovated between 2004 and 2006. Its exterior was fully re-clad, the exhibition and reception areas, shops and restaurant were reconstructed, an outdoor ticket pavilion was built and the square around the building was redesigned. This renovation work gave the Atomium a new lease of life and has met every expectation. Since reopening in February 2006, the Atomium has welcomed over 1.400.000 visitors and is once more arousing the curiosity and enthusiasm of both Belgians and foreign visitors.
On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Atomium management has drawn up a schedule of many activities on the theme of " Brussels Happiness " and of the links between technological progress and the promise of happiness. Almost 50 events (exhibitions, shows, outings, evenings, special publications, etc.) will be taking place between 17 April and 19 October 2008, i.e. during the exact period of the 1958 Universal Exhibition, only half a century later.
Situated on the northern outskirts of Brussels, between the royal estates of Laeken and Stuyvenbergh, and the chaussée romaine, the former Osseghem plateau consisted of meadows and fields during the nineteenth century.
From 1889 onwards, King Léopold II, whose wish it was to enhance the surroundings of the royal palace by the urbanisation of this plateau, undertook a vast program of land purchases, to the point that within twenty years, he had acquired a vast domain of 200 hectares, which he left to the Belgian state on his death in 1909.
While the Atomium remains the main attraction of what is known as the Heysel plateau, a number of other substantial activities have been developed there since 1936: exhibition halls, a congress centre, a leisure and tourist centre, a cinema complex, a planetarium, a stadium, sports grounds, green spaces and restaurants are all there for the greater enjoyment of visitors.
The Universal Exhibition, inaugurated on 27th April 1935, was certainly the starting point for this development. 20 million people visited the 150 hectares of gardens, ponds, buildings and pavilions sponsored by more than twenty different countries. At night, the area was lit up like an illuminated fairyland with the added enchantment of numerous firework displays.
Twenty years later, the International Exhibition of 1958 confirmed the hosting capacity of this site, enabling almost forty million visitors to view the technical and scientific progress of the modern world in an atmosphere of optimism and enjoyment. The general layout of the exhibition centred on the Atomium, an imposing structure, and comprised six separate sectors spread out over 200 hectares.