Atomium, Sylvie Bruyninckx & Christine Coninx
Competition – renovation and interior design – extension with new pavilion and urban design, Brussels
Client: ASBL Atomium vzw – Date: 2004 – 2006 – Area: 3.650 m2 / 39,300 sq ft
During the competition, Conix Architects envisaged what it would be like for a visitor walking up from Boulevard du Centenaire to the Atomium for the first time, as if on a stage set. The boulevard had to be designed in such a way as to welcome visitors in a spectacular manner. The natural slope of the area was exploited to create a new approach, based on the infinite movement of the Moebiusring. Groups of visitors can walk across the entire esplanade. A new pavilion has been added at the bottom of the Atomium, its inviting character enhancing the Atomium and giving it more flexibility because of the various relationships between the foot of the building, the esplanade and the position of the site, which includes Osseghem Park – the green lung of Expo ’58. The existing roundabout will be transformed into a new, large square which offers visitors the opportunity to look at the Atomium from afar and from different angles. The new pavilion is the starting point of an artistic landscape tour through this landmark construction. The pavilion receives, orientates, links and sets the scene. It supports the functional aspect of the site through its commercial space,ticket office, sanitary and storage facilities. It adds an extra dimension to the Atomium as it is skillfully integrated into its surroundings through the use of materials such as satin stainless steel for the pavilion, which reflect the spheres of the Atomium. The aim of this renovation project was to enhance and underline its contemporary ambitions. The renovated iron molecule is a shining example of how a new ‘skin’ has rejuvenated every sphere. This rejuvenation had to be reflected in the internal spaces as well, to bring back the Atomium’s bygone charm. By studying the original documents and plans, Conix Architects pinpointed the purity of the spheres’ design and recreated the atmosphere it had to evoke. This was done in the least intrusive way possible: covering the interior with galvanized steel and the exterior with stainless steel. Discovering the inner secrets of the Atomium becomes easier as you follow the blue stairs throughout the various spheres. The internal spaces of the Atomium flow uninterruptedly through one another via the spheres and tubes. The tubes act as emotional extensions of the structure. Conix Architects’ emotional experience of the spheres is enhanced by the way they treated the interior. The light designer Ingo Maurer created lights especially for the Atomium which enhance the emotional atmosphere of the interior. Six of the nine spheres are open to the public. The remaining three were never designed for public use and will remain empty. The glass volume surrounding the foot has been emptied and shops and other utilities have been moved to the pavilion. After buying your ticket in the pavilion, you start in the bottom sphere, which is dedicated to Expo ’58. This signals the start of a journey of inspiration and emotion that created this structure and leads to the next sphere which houses temporary exhibitions. The next stop is the central sphere which boasts two bars, namely ‘Stippenbar’ and ‘Bellenbar’ where visitors can quench their thirst before taking the lift to the top sphere. The restaurant lounge offers magnificent views over the whole of Brussels. On the way down, you walk through the children’s sphere, designed in conjunction with the artist Alicia Framis. This world of dreams is the gateway to a place where children can stay overnight in a mini-hotel, fully fitted with water molecules. Adults are only allowed to stand on the outside, looking into the magic world on their way out. Going down via the stairs, you approach the exit and the new square, where the visitors can relax on the new urban furniture or the new stairs integrated into the square and enjoy the Atomium’s splendor from a different angle.
History, profile, vision and added value HISTORY – When Christine Conix founded the office in 1979 in Wilrijk, Belgium, Europe, the architectural practice was called ‘Architectenbureau Christine Conix’. In 1989, the offices moved to Antwerp and the number of collaborators has grown ever since. Conix Architects (since 2002) is run by Christine Conix and Sylvie Bruyninckx, who became a partner in 2005. A team of 67 creative and motivated collaborators form a solid structure both at the Antwerp based head office and the office in Brussels (since 2004). Conix Architects has grown steadily over the years, but its expansion has gained momentum the last couple of years. The size and budgets of the projects have increased over the years as well as the experience of both architects and their collaborators. Landmark projects include the modern master residence in the historic Cogels Osylei in Antwerp (1992) and the renovation and expansion of the Atomium in Brussels, Europe (2005). Developing office buildings, apartments, housing and urban concepts form the basis of the architects’ activities. Designing individual houses is viewed as their building laboratory, thus helping them to stay in touch with real living and building needs which have to be continuously examined, explored and refined. Conix Architects do not restrict their client base to Belgium but also work abroad e.g. in France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy. PROFILE – The projects we take on are both residential such as private homes, housing complexes, apartments as well as schools, cultural projects, commercial buildings, offices, banks, industrial projects, interior design, property development and renovations. It is a conscious decision not to specialize in a specific sector: every project offers its own challenges. The nature, extent or budget is not a determining factor when deciding to take on a project, but rather whether it would be possible to initiate a dialog with the client who is open to contemporary and stylish architecture. The needs, wishes and expectations of the client are translated into buildings with a unique appearance drawn from contemporary concepts, displaying the highest quality of work. These ideas reflect the uniqueness of our work, as it strives to explore the guiding principles of spaciousness, communication between indoor and outdoor spaces, refinement and perfection. We as Conix Architects do not strive to design buildings with a unique style per definition but try first of all to meet the needs of the client. These ideas reflect the uniqueness of their work as it strives to achieve its guiding principles of spaciousness, communication between the indoors and outdoors, refinement and perfection. VISION – The type of architecture we strive to create holds a meaningful answer for a specific position in space and time, always characterized by its open spatial concept and its sharpness. The outward appearance of the design has to reflect its content. At Conix Architects we use this duality to create lucidity for the building, which is also expressed in its relation with external and interior spaces. Functionality is essential; experiencing the internal and external spaces should evoke surprise, questions and tranquility. ADDED VALUE – The collective identity of our team forms the foundation of our vision and thus the added value to achieve a successful result. The architectural added value revolves around the following aspects:
Context and surroundings Every project requires that we understand its soul, made up of its orientation, topography, and geometrics, but also the spirit of the time e.g. trends and the economic climate. It is obvious that the context of a project is our starting point and no building can be considered as an autonomous object. Dialogue with its surroundings is inevitable for high rise building, at every level, from every point of view. We have to think about every possible interaction: connecting the underground, designing an attractive ground floor and offering astonishing views and perspectives on different levels, as we rise to a panoramic top level. Interaction is thus considered from the inside to the outside and vice- versa. The architecture has to contribute to its surroundings in the broadest or any sense and add aesthetic and cultural value to society and the individual’s life. ‘We must move with the times.’
Long-term sustainability combined with quality Sustainability in the long run is essential for the intangible side of architecture in physical terms such as the choice of substantial elements (e.g. position and choice of materials), but also in emotional (e.g. atmosphere, light and shadow) and intellectual aspects (e.g. debate and culture). Sustainable building shows respect for the environment and a long-term architectural vision. If we speak about sustainability we consider time as a given concept. Time is an essential topic in our work. Knowledge from past and present projects determines our future vision. We want to design ‘good’ buildings, interiors and spaces. And every good building should engender a perplexing multitude of architectural experiences. In this way we are certain that quality lies within dwelling comfort, spatial relations between function and form, between interior and exterior, building according to the human scale, designing the non-built space, healthy cost-control, taking into account innovative design and sustainable solutions. Therefore we emphasize the dimension of ‘time’, time for communication, as this is the only certainty for a qualitative result. ‘To be timeless, we strive to build for future generations.’
Image and experience of the firm Society can be defined as an association of individuals to a venture. Wherever we go, our spatial experience is with us. We all have different readings, we all have different backgrounds. A vision should talk about an image fulfilling one’s dreams when experiencing a building. Our aim is to make these dreams become reality. As we are attuned to human needs both relating to preconditions and user conditions for the built-up and imagined space, we develop one specific concept: namely searching, processing and exchanging information to help one see and feel architecture. An image allows many readings. We have the ability to read situations and adjust to them to the client’s needs. That encapsulates the societal dimension of Conix Architects. Aiming for quality is building the human scale, with the human proportion as a guideline. ‘Architecture moves people and evokes emotion.’
Know-how combined with business acumen Experience has taught us how to approach every project at its best, how to choose the right partners, control the economic aspect efficiently and approach the project in a multidisciplinary way. Imagination and resourcefulness are the strength that we apply to meet with quality and budgetary needs. We value the input of every intervening member. All of these efforts lead to attractive and high quality results. ‘Budget inputs are subject to output evaluations in quality.’ Our primary task at Conix Architects is building outstanding and qualitative concepts, irrespective of their size or difficulty, to the best of our abilities. The result is always plural and never remote from its specific expectations, needs and objectives. In Future Christine & Sylvie will Collaborate with Leen Vandaele from Squisito for a special project which will be revealed soon. Squisito is a Belgian company with a branch in Dubai.