THE RESTORATION [2004-2006]


Initially, the Atomium was not supposed to survive Expo 58.  However, its designers had imagined it would remain standing for at least 10 years. In 1959, a 25-year lease was signed between Fabrimétal and the city of Brussels to continue operating the building.  It could thus remain open to visitors, but it was ravaged by time, and also a victim of the public’s disenchantment with this 1958 aesthetic.

The only major remnant of Expo 58, it was progressively handicapped by its tarnished appearance and leaky structure. it was almost demolished in the late 1990s, due to a lack of concrete plans and enough visitors to make it financially viable.  

In 2001, a renovation project was submitted by ASBL Atomium, the Belgian federal government, the Brussels-Capital regional government, and the City of Brussels. The restoration was scheduled to take place between march 2004 and February 2006.  It was an exceptional project that had to respect the original edifice as much as possible, while adapting it to the requirements of today’s visitors in terms of comfort and safety.  This historical building was restored by the Conix Architect firm with supervision by Konrad Bilgischer.

The entire outer skin of the Atomium was peeled away, and 1,000 of the original triangular plates covering the spheres were auctioned off to pay for its new metal shell. Stainless steel was used instead of aluminium, because it was found to be more resistant to corrosion and provides better sound insulation.

As in 1958, this new skin was assembled like a meccano set, using a method developed by Belgo-métal, which made it as easy as possible to add new plates. Each triangular panel is 16m2 in size, weighs 500 kg, and is made up of 15 small triangles with false joints.  The total weight of the building was increased by 100 tonnes (the Atomium now weighs 2,500 tonnes compared to 2400 in 1958), but its structure was scrupulously respected.  

The only significant contemporary modification was the installation of a glass roof in the lift, which allows visitors to see how fast they are going and to discover the amazing steel lattice.

The project required the use of rare skills: to develop the spheres, calling on dozens of specialist steeplejacks, who could work at height on the spheres in the blazing summer heat and freezing winter conditions.

The indoor and outdoor lighting system was devised by the world-renowned German designer Ingo Maurer, who is an expert in this domain.  He developed an LED lighting system. The inside of the spheres was completely redesigned to correspond to the new use of the building.

A visitors’ centre was also built at the foot of the building to facilitate the reception of the public. Designed by the Belgian architect Christine Conix, it houses the ticket office, restrooms, and a snack bar. It adds a small contemporary touch, while perfectly respecting the original style of the structure. 

The restored Atomium was inaugurated on 18 February 2006. To celebrate the occasion, the National Bank of Belgium issued a commemorative 2-Euro coin.


THE 50th ANNIVERSARY [2008]


In 2008, a major celebration was organised for the fiftieth anniversary of Expo 58, with the Atomium at the heart of the festivities.

An historical retrospective exhibition was held in  its spheres Expo 58: between utopia and reality  and opened on 17 April 2008, 50 years, to the day, after the official opening of the Brussels World's Fair.   

A temporary happiness Pavilion, was built using 33,000 recyclable beer crates at the foot of the Atomium, by the architecture firm, V+.

The programme included a design flea market, an open-air festival, concerts and a giant fireworks display.