Atomium

While on the topic of extraordinary buildings of the 1950s, I finally visited the Atomium earlier this year. I remember seeing it on postcards I collected as a child and was always fascinated by its apparent molecular structure.

By the time I learned enough chemistry to have been able to try and identify what it was a molecule of, I had completely forgotten about it. Fortunately, I never tried to work out which chemical bonds it represents. When visiting, I learned that its structure was dictated by weight, materials, balance and architectural requirements rather than any chemical ones.

It was built for the 1958 World Fair held in Brussels and is surrounded by a large park which was home to the other exhibitors at the time. Like the Eiffel Tower, it is the only part remaining of the World Fair it was built for. Having said that, its location was in part selected because of the proximity to the main Brussels exhibition centre, Expo, build in the 1930s. From the Atomium you get a great view of exhibition hall 5 or Grand Palais/Eeuwfeestpaleis, which still hosts exhibitions and trade fairs. In 1987 the 32nd Eurovision Song Contest was held in hall 5.

A few of the globes are accessible to visitors and there are both steps and escalators along some of the struts connecting the globes you can use to move around inside. Much of the internal exhibit is devoted to the construction of the Atomium and the Expo itself. A couple of the globes host other exhibits, the one when I visited was about the view from a window. A mixed media project (photos, videos, audio) of life as experienced from the windows of people in cities. It was conducted during Corona lockdowns. For many participants, the window was the closest they got to ‘outside’.

Other globes host immersive light experiences, which are practically impossible to capture photographically. I was more intrigued by the view from the windows of the Atomium onto the other parts of itself and how it gave the impression of being on a space station.

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