Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects has paid homage to the northern lights by constructing a titanium-clad cathedral that spirals up towards the sky (+ slideshow).
Danish studio Schmidt Hammer Lassen teamed up with Scandinavian firm Link Arkitektur to design the Cathedral of the Northern Lights in Alta, a Norwegian town located 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The cathedral was conceived as a public attraction for tourists visiting the natural light display, officially known as the Aurora Borealis, which occurs when particles from the sun collide with the earth's magnetic field. It can be observed frequently between late autumn and early spring.
With a spiralling body, the cathedral winds up to form a pointed belfry 47 metres above the ground.
"The Cathedral of the Northern Lights is a landmark, which through its architecture symbolises the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights," said Schmidt Hammer Lassen partner John F. Lassen.
Shimmering titanium clads the exterior and was added to reflect the vivid green colours of the lights as they flicker across the sky.
"The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful," added Lassen. "It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature."
The spiralling form continues inside the building, where offices, classrooms and exhibition areas wrap around a 350-person hall, which will be used for church congregations.
This isn't the first time the northern lights have provided the inspiration for architecture. Henning Larsen Architects and artist Olafur Eliasson drew inspiration from the lights when designing the Harpa Concert and Conference Centre in Reykjavík, Iceland.
A number of architectural projects have been completed in the northern parts of Norway in recent years. Peter Zumthor built a memorial to commemorate suspected witches, while Reiulf Ramstad Architects has added platforms high up in the Norwegian mountains.
Above: site plan - click for larger image
Photography is by Adam Mørk.
Above: ground floor plan - click for larger image
Here's some more information from Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects:
Official inauguration of the Cathedral of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway
The Crown Princess of Norway, Mette-Marit, has just inaugurated the Cathedral of the Northern Lights situated in the Norwegian town of Alta approximately 500 km north of the Arctic Circle. Even before the inauguration, the 47-metre-high cathedral, designed by schmidt hammer lassen architects in cooperation with Link Arkitektur, was perceived as a symbol and an architectural landmark for the entire area.
Above: basement level plan - click for larger image
In 2001, when the architecture competition for the Cathedral of the Northern Lights was arranged, the city council in Alta did not just want a new church: they wanted an architectural landmark that would underline Alta’s role as a public venue from which the natural phenomenon of the northern lights could be observed.
Above: long section - click for larger image
The significance of the northern lights is reflected in the architecture of the cathedral. The contours of the church rise as a spiralling shape to the tip of the belfry 47 metres above the ground. The façade, clad in titanium, reflects the northern lights during the long periods of Arctic winter darkness and emphasizes the experience of the phenomenon.
Above: cross section - click for larger image
Inside the main area of the cathedral, the church room creates a peaceful contrast to the dynamic exterior of the building. The materials used, raw concrete for the walls and wood for the floors, panels and ceilings, underline the Nordic context. Daylight enters the church room through tall, slim, irregularly placed windows. A skylight lights up the whole wall behind the altar creating a distinctive atmosphere in the room.
Above: front elevation
The cathedral, which can accommodate 350 people in the church room, also has administration offices, classrooms, exhibition areas and a parochial area.
Above: side elevation
Architect team: schmidt hammer lassen architects, Link Arkitektur A/S
Client: The Municipality of Alta
Area: 1,917 sqm
Construction sum: €16.2 million
Competition: 2001, 1st prize in restricted architecture competition
Status: Construction period 2009 – 2013
Engineer: Rambøll AS, Alta
Main contractor: Ulf Kivijervi AS
Art work: Peter Brandes
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