History and museums
The Atomium ( /əˈtoʊmiːəm/ 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, it stands 102 m (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18 m (59 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. The name is a combination of atom and aluminium. It is a museum.
Tubes of 3 m (9.8 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.
Renovation of 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 metres (6 ft 7 in) long sold for €1,000.
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.
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). 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 (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 23 February 2009 Axel Addington, Web Content Manager for Atomium, e-mailed 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:
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.