What: The Atomium
Where: Square de l’Atomium, B-1020 Brussels, Belgium
In northern Brussels a structure named ‘Europe’s most bizarre building’ is a permanent reminder of the Cold War’s utopian vision of the future. The Atomium was constructed for Expo 58, the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958, and was originally intended only to survive the months of the Fair. But such was the popularity of this unusual part-building part-sculpture that over half a century later it remains the Belgian capital’s most popular tourist destination.
The 335ft-high stainless steel building was designed by engineer André Waterkeyn with architects André and Jean Polak. The shape represents a single molecule of iron magnified 165 billion times. Five of its nine spheres house permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, while the connecting tubes enclose escalators and staircases. The top provides a panoramic view where on a clear day visitors can see as far as Antwerp.
Built at the height of the Cold War, when scientific developments were at the forefront of confrontations between competing nations, the Atomium recalls the idealistic dreams of the Space Race and ambitions on both sides of the Iron Curtain for an ultra-modern and super-technological future.
Images: Exterior and interior of The Atomium, designed by André Waterkeyn, André Polak and Jean Polak, 1958. Photos courtesy Shed Expedition