The building was designed and constructed on the occasion of the Brussels World’s Fair (1958), for which it was the flagship building and emblem.
With the slogan A world view – a new Humanism, Expo’58 was the first of its kind after the Second World War. This global event itself reflects the aspirations of the age, such as humanism, world peace, a better life thanks to scientific and technological progress.
The peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes – medical scanners, power generation, etc. – embodies these themes particularly well. And so, it is also the fascination for the atom that determined the shape of the Atomium, which at a height of 102 metres with its nine interconnected spheres, represents an iron crystal unit cell enlarged 165 billion times.
Its design was the responsibility of engineer, André Waterkeyn (1917-2005). The interior of the spheres were realised by the architects André and Jean Polak.
The Atomium was not intended to survive beyond Expo ’58.
But its unique character and what it already represented at the time meant it was never destroyed.
The renovation [2004-2006] of what is now called the most Belgian of buildings made this emblem of our heritage into a centre for art; but also the most visited tourist destination in the European capital (620,000 entries per year, 2,000,000 visitors on the plaza and almost 98,000 photos published on InstagramTM) and finally the international symbol of Brussels and Belgium.
The history of the Atomium, from its conception to today, is the theme of the permanent exhibition Atomium: from symbol to icon.