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The Atomium is a monument in Brussels, originally built for Expo '58, the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Designed by André Waterkeyn, it stands 102-metres (335 ft) tall. It has nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

Tubes connect the spheres along the 12 edges of the cube and all eight vertices to the centre. They enclose escalators connecting the spheres containing exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere provides a panoramic view of Brussels. Each sphere is 18 metres in diameter. Three spheres are currently (2008) closed to visitors, others can be reached easily by escalators. The vertical vertex contains a lift which was very fast and advanced at the time of building (the speed is 5 m/s).


One of the original ideas for Expo '58 was to build an upside-down version of the Eiffel tower; however, Waterkeyn felt that an atomic structure would be more symbolic of the era. The monument was originally planned to stand there for six months. However, it became a symbol not only of the World's Fair, but of modern architecture and the city of Brussels and of Belgium. It received monument status and stayed on the former exhibition grounds for over 50 years. It is now one of Brussels' main attractions.


Renovation on the Atomium began in March 2004; it was closed to the public in October, and remained closed until 18 February 2006. The renovations included replacing the faded aluminium sheets on the spheres with stainless steel. To help pay for renovations, the old aluminium was sold to the public as souvenirs. A triangular piece about 2 m long sold for €1,000,

The renovation includes revamped exhibition spaces, a restaurant, and a dormitory for visiting schoolchildren called "Kids Sphere Hotel" which features suspended plastic sphere towers. A €2 commemorative coin depicting the sculpture was issued in March 2006 to celebrate the renovation.

Post renovation

The Atomium is one of the most visited attractions in Brussels today. In 2008, the Atomium celebrated its 50th anniversary, with activities planned all year, including free admission for those turning 50 between April and October.


The Atomium is located at 50°53′41″N 4°20′28″E, beside the King Baudouin Stadium in Heysel Park. Just next to it lies the Mini-Europe park and the Heysel/Heizel metro station.

Safety features

Three of the four uppermost spheres lack vertical support and hence are not open to the public for safety reasons, although the sphere at the pinnacle is open to the public. The original design called for no supports; the structure was simply to rest on the spheres. Wind tunnel tests proved that the structure would have toppled in an 80 km/h wind (140 km/h winds have been recorded in Belgium). Support columns were added to achieve enough resistance against overturning.

Worldwide copyright claims

SABAM, Belgium's society for collecting royalties, has claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproductions of the Atomium image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS) . For example SABAM issued a demand that a United States website remove all images of the Atomium from its pages. The website responded by replacing all such images with a warning not to take photographs of the Atomium, and that Asbl Atomium will sue if you show them to anyone. Sabam confirmed that permission is required.

Ralf Ziegermann remarked on the complicated copyright instructions on Atomium's website specific to "private pictures". The organisers of Belgian heritage, Anno Expo (www.expo58.eu, planning the 50th anniversary celebrations of Expo '58), in the city of Mechelen announced a "cultural guerrilla strike" by asking people to send in their old photographs of the Atomium and requested 100 photoshoppers to paint over the balls. SABAM responded that they would make an exception for 2008 and that people could publish private photographs for one year only on condition they were for non-commercial purposes.

Anno Expo later announced they had censored part of their own report due to "complications" and referred to a meeting they had with SABAM. Mechelen's Mayor, Bart Somers, called the Atomium copyright rules absurd.

On February 23, 2009 Axel Addington, Web Content Manager for Atomium, e-mailed a clarification to the Glass Steel and Stone web site, which some years earlier redacted its photographs of the Atomium after being threatened. He stated, "The royalties are perceived (sic) by the descendants of Andre Waterkeyn, the engineer who conceived Atomium in 1955, and not by the A.S.B.L Atomium. So, you've probably been sued by the SABAM (Belgian Copyright Company) because of the Waterkeyn Family."

From the Atomium's website, the current copyright restrictions exempt private individuals under the following conditions,

    There are some cases however where use of the image of the Atomium is not restricted by any rights. This is the case where photographs are taken by private individuals and shown on private websites for no commercial purpose (the current trend for photo albums), as long as these pictures are displayed at a low resolution (600 pixels maximum, resolution of 72dpi) to avoid abusive usage and downloads. However, the words "© www.atomium.be - SABAM 2010 - photographers name" must be included next to the image.

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