12 feb 2013

A dialogue between architecture and nature, in interaction with the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights Cathedral (Norwegian: Nordlyskatedralen - AltaKirke), situated in the Norwegian Alta Municipality approximately 500 km north of the Arctic Circle, was even before the inauguration perceived as a symbol and an architectural landmark for the entire area. It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature.

In 2001, when the architecture competition for the Cathedral 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.
The church was built in 2012-2013, it was consecrated on 10 February 2013. It is the latest in a row of cultural projects designed by schmidt hammer lassen architects. 

“The Cathedral of the Northern Lights is in its design a result of the surrounding nature and local culture. The building is a landmark, which through its architecture symbolizes the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights,” explains John F. Lassen, Founding Partner at schmidt hammer lassen architects. He continues: “The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful. It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature.”
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.

Inside the main area of the cathedral, which can accommodate 350 people, 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.

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photo credit © schmidt hammer lassen architects.
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