The Atomium 1958, Brussels , Avenue de l’Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium, 102 meters by André Waterkeyn. Engineering consultants Beckers, Joukoff and Daniel, Architects A. and J. Polak

The Atomium 1958, Brussels , Avenue de l'Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium, 102 meters. By Andre Waterkeyn.

Have you ever wondered what a crystal of iron would look like magnified 160 billion times? Well I have, so thank goodness for Monsieur Andre Waterkeyn who designed the stunning Atomium, constructed in 1958, for the World’s Fair in Brussels. Now I know what a huge iron crystal looks like and I have to say I really like it. To be fair to Atoms, it is really a molecule, each sphere represents an atom.The 1958 World’s Fair was the last of the four World Fairs to be held in Belgium. Contructed for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, the Atomium was only supposed to last six months, the duration of the event.

An aerial photograph of The Atomium 1958, Brussels

An aerial photograph of The Atomium 1958, Brussels

An engineer in the nuclear age

Andre Waterkeyn was born 1917 in Wimbledon, London and died in Brussels in 2005 at the age of 88. In a moment of quite delightful synchronicity Double Stone Steel are building a new stainless steel coloring factory in Wimbledon.

In 1954 Waterkeyn whilst working for Fabrimetal a group of metal fabrication companies, was asked to design a building that would showcase Belgian engineering skills to the world. An iron crystal magnified 165 billion times was deemed the way to go.

Three industrial groups - the Federation of the metalworking, mechanical and electrotechnical engineering industries, the Belgian blast-furnace and steel working group and the Union on non-ferrous metals industries - joined together in a non-profit-making organisation and appointed André Waterkeyn as Managing Director.

The Atomium was a monumental image of the then new and exciting nuclear age. During the fair, the Atomium held an exhibition showing the benefits of nuclear science to mankind. This was the age where the boffins around the world were convinced that nuclear science would completely remove the need for anyone work or for any other type of power generation system. Electricity would be so cheap that it would be free to all. The world would find its Utopia at long last. The Nuclear age was going to be, safe, cheap and simple. Nuclear power would save the world. I am not sure the general public were convinced as the memory of the nuclear booming in Japan were very fresh.

The Atomium’s physical structure

The Atomium consists of nine spheres, each sphere having a diameter of 18m.The spheres are connected by twenty, 23m long metal tubes, the tubes have a diameter 3.3m. The tubes allow the visitor to move between the spheres using escalators or staircases. The structure stands on three pillars known as ‘bipods’. In 1958 the Atomium had the fastest lift in Europe, reaching speeds of 5 meters per second

Cover to Paris Match

Cover to Paris Match

The original construction of the frame was in steel, with 10-12mm aluminium panels. The spheres’ aluminium is an alloy called 'Peraluman 15' which was then covered with a thin sheet of aluminium called 'reflectal', which was then highly polished. In 2004 the building was shut to the public to be refurbished. The original aluminium panels being replaced by polished stainless steel panels. Over 6000 honeycombed panels were fabricated in 1.2mm, grade 316L with a rock wool insulation core and a 1mm galvanised interior skin. The building looks wonderful and should stand for many many years.

Diane Hennebert, former director of the Atomium said in 2008.

"The story of the Atomium is, above all, one of love, the love that the Belgians have for an extraordinary structure symbolising a frame of mind that wittily combines aesthetic daring with technical mastery. The appearance of the Atomium is unusual and unforgettable. It has a rare quality of lifting everyone’s spirits and firing their imagination."

Close up of one of the Atomium’s spheres

Close up of one of the Atomium’s spheres

By Richard Storer-Adam
Managing Director of Double Stone Steel Ltd.

Here we look at every kind of architecture, often including steel and other metals of course, current and historical usually by famous and influential architects but sometimes by names that are surprisingly lesser known.

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana - Double Stone Steel

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana

The conviction of Rafael de La-Hoz Arderius and Gerardo Olivares to build a minimalist sculpture of steel, glass and travertine on an urban scale.

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture - Double Stone Steel

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture

Robin Fisher explores this building, located at the gateway of Los Angeles' famous Museum Row, extensively renovated through the work of Kohn Pedersen Fox and A.Zahner.

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie - Double Stone Steel

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the design and construction of this 64-story skyscraper, built in the 1970’s with Cor-Ten steel, symbolising the triumph of the US Steel industry.

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957 - Double Stone Steel

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the background and architecture of this iconic modernist glass and bronze tower by German-American architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and American associate architect Philip Cortelyou Johnson.

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA - Double Stone Steel

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA

Antonio Moll reviews the first work by the Dutch Office in the USA, 16 years after its opening, considering what is probably the most disrupting piece of architecture of the 21st Century.

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902 - Double Stone Steel

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902

Richard Storer-Adam dwells on the genesis of NYC’s most iconic skyscraper and ‘quintessential symbol’ of Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA named after the Flatiron district.

How artists and designers are using metals today and how long this apparently modern trend has been going on for.

Richard Serra: Experiencing Steel and Architecture at Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, Spain - Double Stone Steel

Richard Serra: Experiencing Steel and Architecture at Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, Spain

Gracia Ramírez explains how Richard Serra´s Cor-ten steel sculptures revitalise the experience of the built environment through play with negative space and the counterbalancing of heavy-weight metal structures.

The gargantuan stainless steel memorial to the legendary Mongolian leader Genghis Khan - Double Stone Steel

The gargantuan stainless steel memorial to the legendary Mongolian leader Genghis Khan

Richard Storer-Adam gives an overview of the imposing statue built to commemorate the famous warrior and observes how the process of Physical Vapor Deposition has been incorporated into the design.

An overview of three families of works by Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa, b.1955 - Double Stone Steel

An overview of three families of works by Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa, b.1955

Antonio Moll reviews these pieces which, employing light, play with the representation of human heads and alphabetic letters and are created from steel, aluminium, wire mesh, glass and snow.

A journey to visit the The Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason in Reykjavík, Iceland - Double Stone Steel

A journey to visit the The Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason in Reykjavík, Iceland

Richard Storer-Adam takes us on a trip to visit, admire and understand this ethereal and haunting Viking sculpture in polished stainless steel.

Curtis Jere – the partnership between Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels, creating art from a heavenly mix of metals - Double Stone Steel

Curtis Jere – the partnership between Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels, creating art from a heavenly mix of metals

Richard Storer-Adam looks at some of the spectacular artworks and innovative techniques creating pieces which are still sought-after today as iconic mid-century modern art.

The Architect - Double Stone Steel

The Architect

A poem by Richard Storer-Adam on the agony of the late night designing process for an architect.