Expo '58 Brussels: the best of innovation


At Expo Dubai 2020, Belgium will primarily present its technological innovations in the field of smart mobility. At its Expo in 1958, Brussels displayed an optimism and an unbounded belief in technical and scientific progress, which would allow the great fraternisation of humanity.

On Thursday 17 October 1958, the doors of this forward-looking event, the first large celebration after the Second World War, opened confidently on Heysel plateau in Brussels. There were very high expectations of a new period of economic prosperity, cooperation, peace and brotherhood between all peoples and races.

Each pavilion had its own features

Around 40 national, international and commercial pavilions, spread over 2 km², attempted to charm the public by presenting their special, typical characteristics. Belgium occupied around half the site and proudly showed what it could do in the most diverse fields: science, culture, education, energy, industry, civil engineering, communication and transport, economy, leisure and health and general population development. The Atomium was the undoubted star of the show, a steel construction of nine giant spheres that together represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. This innovative architecture was a fantastic springboard for promoting the Belgian steel industry and serving as a viewing point over the vast site. With a concrete spire, 80 m high, the civil engineering pavilion of the Atomium was pure science fiction for many. Over the course of six months, more than 41 million visitors from Belgium and all over the world marvelled at these wonders and dozens of other remarkable buildings. Although destined to be demolished after the Expo, the Atomium has become an icon that now shines brighter than ever.

The public relations campaign was in full swing

Expo 58 in Brussels, which was full of futuristic pavilions, also had a modern communication campaign to spread a young, impetuous image. The media sent out an endless stream of information. The exhibition's official logo, by Belgian graphic designer Lucien De Roeck, was the asymmetrical five-pointed star, the globe and the date 58. Posters and flyers conveyed a warm and courteous image of World Expo's opening reception. Speaking of courtesy, only carefully selected ladies were allowed to walk around the pavilions. These hostesses, who were almost ushering in a new profession, were given very strict instructions in terms of dress, appearance and behaviour. The image of tomorrow's world had to be perfect.

While Duke Ellington and Count Basie played jazz in the American pavilion, novelties such as soft ice cream and three-colour brown-white-pink ice cream between two waffles - a reference to the Belgian flag - were snapped up. As were chocolate and coca cola, of course. These uninterrupted celebrations lasted until Sunday 19 April 1958, when the curtain fell on Expo '58 Brussels, and more than 60 years later the Atomium is still gleaming on Heysel plateau.