zaterdag 20 augustus 2016

Back to the future

In a previous post, I blogged about Jos's home town and its brick-making past, mentioning that the uppermost five spheres of the Atomium in Brussels were visible from a vantage point near his former home.







Last Monday, which was a public holiday in Belgium, with the weather being particularly bright and sunny, we decided to join the tourists and pay the Atomium a visit.

It wasn't our first visit by any means: we have actually visited it four times in the 22 years we have been together.












For those of you who are not familiar with this extraordinary building, I will tell you about its fascinating history in this post.

Original 1958 postcard  from our collection






The Atomium was built especially for Expo 58, the world fair which took place in Brussels in 1958, and it was easily the most spectacular piece of architecture at the fair.











Expo 58 was the first major post-war world fair and, as well as exuding an air of optimism, it showcased new technologies as well as innovative architecture.

Original poster from our collection

 In fact, quite a few of the pavilions would still be considered modern by today's standards.

The American pavilion, parts of which still exist today, and
which has long been used as a television studio (*)
The British pavilion (*)


The fair was visited by more than 42 million people, one of them an impressionable schoolboy called Jos, whose three visits to the fair instilled a life long fascination for everything related to Expo 58.

Philips pavilion (*)

Pavilion of Civil Engineering (*)
(*) Original postcards from our collection

After all, the building-in-progress of the Atomium could be followed from his home town!

In spite of this, Jos did not actually visit the Atomium itself, as it cost a staggering 60 Belgian Francs, whereas an adult entrance ticket to the whole fair was only 30 Belgian Francs in comparison.

Original entrance tickets and leaflet from our collection
The Atomium represents a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal (each sphere representing an atom) and was quite a feat in gravity defying engineering.

If you are interested in the technical particulars: the Atomium stands 102 meters tall and consists of nine spheres with a diameter of 18 meters. The spheres are connected by tubes, some of which contain stairs or escalators.


The top sphere, which can be reached by the super fast lift in the central tube, not only offers 360° panoramic views, it also contains a restaurant, where we were treated to dinner by Jos's eldest daughter on his 60th birthday, giving us the chance to see the Atomium lit up by 2970 LED lights at night.

Like most of the pavilions built at the site, the Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the exhibition, but here it is, still there after almost 60 years. It has, in fact, become a Brussels landmark (much as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris), not to mention a popular tourist attraction.

In 2006, the original aluminium sheets which clad the spheres, having dulled with age, were replaced by shiny new stainless steel ones.



At the fair itself, there was a brisk trade in what we would now call "merchandise": ashtrays, souvenir plates, glasses, key-rings and pins, you name it, all bearing either the Atomium or the official Expo 58 logo. Models of the Atomium in all sizes were a popular choice of memorabilia as well.


These Expo 58 memorabilia are now very collectible and are being sold for many times their original price. In 2008, which marked the 50th anniversary of the fair, prices even soared to astronomical heights and many items were unearthed from attics where they'd languished for years under layers of dust.


We have a modest collection, which is primarily Jos's, displayed in a cabinet and dotted around the house.











This original poster advertising the world fair is a prized possession, taking pride of place in our living room.














My next post will be all about our visit, on which I invite you to join me again!

18 opmerkingen:

  1. The Atomium is Sooooooooooooooooooooo cool! It really is futuristic!!! How amazing that it still stands and looks brand new!

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    1. It is indeed a very cool building and in my next post I'll show you the inside! xxx

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  2. were is this optimism gone? this gorgeous piece of architecture - and the whole expo and most other designs of this time - breeze an air of "better world".....
    thank you for the great pics and the interesting facts!!!! xxxxxx

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    1. I think the optimism was a post-war thing ... I quite like the mid-century architecture and design. Compared to then, everything is a bit sedate now. xxx

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  3. This must be the Belgian equivalent of the Festival of Britain. Amazing building. I assumed to begin with that it was a sculpture. I bet it was wonderful going to the restaurant there. Xxx

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    1. Expo 58 is indeed comparable to the Festival of Britain. Going to the restaurant was quite an experience. We were at the main table with the best view ... xxx

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  4. I thought the same as Tania, the equivalent to our Festival of Britain of which the souvenirs are quite sought after.
    I love that wonderful Atomium, no wonder Jos was captivated as a child. Most of us thought that in the year 2000 we'd all be living on the moon in structures like that back in the 1970s, didn't we? xxx

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    1. You, Tania and Fiona all think the same, and you are right, it is reminiscent of the Festival of Britain. If we would be living in such structures, being it on the moon or elsewhere, surely there must be chazzas in some of those spheres! xxx

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  5. The Atomium really is iconic, isn't it? I had no idea it could light up, though.

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    1. It was quite an experience seeing it lit up at night, even though it was raining when we were there! xxx

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  6. What an incredible structure! Yes, I too was reminded of The 1951 Festival of Britain. It must have been fantastic in the restaurant among all those lights. How lovely that it did survive...they made things to last in those days!

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    1. Thank you Fiona, and welcome to my blog! It's a pity they took down most of the other pavilions, though. There even was one which was designed by Le Corbusier ... xxx

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  7. How awesome! Your collection of memorabilia is really charming. I especially adore the reverse carved keychain.

    Big hugs & happy wishes for the final days of August,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thanks Jessica. We are really pleased with our little collection. There are a couple of brooches as well, but I wouldn't dream of wearing them! Much too precious ... xxx

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  8. Oooooooh! So beautiful, especially all lit up at night, it's stunning! I would love to see it in person xxx

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    1. If you ever decide to visit, I will gladly be your guide. xxx

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  9. Wonderful! I love the Atomium and was so impressed with it when I saw it on a school trip in the Seventies. As I recall, I bought loads of postcards and a key ring! Your collection of memorabilia is amazing-love the snow globe!xx

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    1. How great that you visited the Atomium in the Seventies. My first visit to it was actually only in 1995, while we are only half an hour's drive away ... xxx

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