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The Atomium
Atomium 320 by 240 CCBY20 flickr Mike Cattell.jpg
General information
Status Open
Location Brussels, Belgium
Coordinates 50°53′41″N 4°20′28″E / 50.89472°N 4.34111°E / 50.89472; 4.34111Coordinates: 50°53′41″N 4°20′28″E / 50.89472°N 4.34111°E / 50.89472; 4.34111
Completed 1958
Antenna spire 102 m (335 ft)
Design and construction
Engineer André Waterkeyn

The Atomium ( /əˈtməm/ ə-TOH-mee-əm) is a building in Brussels originally constructed for Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak,[1] it stands 102 m (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18 m (60 ft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is now a museum.[1]

Tubes of 3 m (10 ft) diameter connect the spheres along the 12 edges of the cube and all eight vertices to the centre. They enclose stairs, escalators and a lift (in the central, vertical tube) to allow access to the five habitable spheres which contain exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere includes a restaurant which has a panoramic view of Brussels. CNN named it Europe's most bizarre building.[2]


An equivalent depiction of the body-centred cubic unit cell of an iron crystal. If this unit is repeated millions of times in every direction, the structure of the entire iron crystal is shown.

In the 1950s, faith in scientific progress was great, and a structure depicting atoms was chosen to embody this. The Atomium depicts nine iron atoms in the shape of the body-centred cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.[3]

Though the Atomium depicts an iron unit cell, the balls were originally clad with aluminum. Following the 2004-2007 renovations, however, the aluminum was replaced with stainless steel, which is primarily iron. Likewise, while the subject of Atomium was chosen to depict the enthusiasm of the Atomic Age, iron is not and cannot be used as fuel in nuclear reactions.


Renovation of the Atomium began in March 2004; it was closed to the public in October, and remained closed until 18 February 2007. 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 metres (7 ft) long sold for €1,000.[4]

Three of the four top 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.[5]

A 2 euro commemorative coin depicting the building was issued in March 2006 to celebrate the renovation.

Worldwide copyright claims[edit]

A photograph of the Atomium, censored due to lack of freedom of panorama rights at the time
A model of the Atomium at Minimundus in Austria.
A model of the Atomium at Minimundus in Austria.

SABAM, Belgium's society for collecting copyrights, has claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproductions of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS).[6] For example SABAM issued a demand that a United States website remove all images of the Atomium from its pages.[7] 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.[7][8] SABAM confirmed that permission is required.[7]

Ralf Ziegermann remarked[9] on the complicated copyright instructions on Atomium's website specific to "private pictures".[10] The organisers of Belgian heritage, Anno Expo[11] (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.[12][13] 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.[12]

Anno Expo later announced they had censored part of their own report due to "complications" and referred to a meeting they had with SABAM.[14] Mechelen's Mayor, Bart Somers, called the Atomium copyright rules absurd.[15]

On 23 February 2009 Axel Addington, web content manager for Atomium, emailed a clarification to the Glass Steel and Stone website, which some years earlier redacted its photographs of the Atomium after being threatened. He stated:

The royalties are perceived [sic] by the descendants of André 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 Web site, the current copyright restrictions exempt private individuals under the following conditions:[16]

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).
In accordance with legislation, usage rights for the image of the Atomium would naturally extend to 1st January 2076, in other words, the seventieth anniversary of André Waterkeyn's death.

In the summer of 2015, Open Vld, a Belgian political party issued a bill to enable panorama freedom in Belgium. In May 2016, the first vote was positive and the bill passed in June of the same year, meaning that pictures of the Atomium and other public buildings under copyright, can finally be distributed.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Official website
  2. ^ Benavides Canepa, Jessica (24 January 2013). "11 of Europe's most bizarre buildings". CNN. Retrieved 25 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "History". Atomium Foundation. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Atomium restored". Veerle Pieters. 16 February 2006. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  5. ^ "Atomium (1958) | Structurae" (in German). 24 February 2006. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Such unlicensed reproduction and use of artwork on any Internet site with public access is considered in violation of the worldwide intellectual property rights of the rightsholders, including without limitation, copyright, trademark rights and moral rights". 14 July 2003. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Simon Aughton (21 April 2008). "100 'photoshoppers' wanted to erase copyright building". MacUser News. Archived from the original on 25 May 2008. 'Since its creation, the Atomium is a copyrighted monument and any reproduction of its image in a publication or on a website must be accompanied by a prior authorisation request to the rightholders or to Sabam,' a spokeswoman said. 
  8. ^ "Atomium, The :: Boulevard du Centenaire, Brussels, Belgium". Glass Steel and Stone. Archived from the original on 13 March 2006. Even if you are an American and think you are protected by U.S. copyright law Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 120, you will still be sued. 
  9. ^ Ralf Ziegermann (5 January 2008). "Atomium and Expo '58". The Cartoonist. 
  10. ^ "Copyright photo". Official blog of the Atomium & Expo 58. 2008. Archived from the original on 1 July 2008. In the precise and exclusive case of information articles related to the festivities of the fiftieth birthday of the Atomium and of Expo 58, private pictures intended for non-commercial and non-promotional purposes, published in low resolution (max. 600 pixels wide / 72 dpi), are free from copyrights. However, the copyright © Sabam 2008 - must be mentioned. 
  11. ^ Archived 5 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ a b "The balls of Brussels". embe. 10 April 2008. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. 
  13. ^ (Dutch)
  14. ^ "Belangrijk bericht aan de bezoekers / inzenders / photoshoppers / lezers" (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 12 April 2008. 
  15. ^ Christophe Callewaert (9 April 2008). "Sabam in het nauw". Indymedia Belgium (in Dutch). 
  16. ^ copyright, retrieved 26 March 2010.
  17. ^
  18. ^

External links[edit]