Cathedral of the Northern Lights

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Located 500 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the latest project by Norway’s Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects is a house of worship and an ideal spot for viewing the northern lights.

Earlier this month, the Crown Prince of Norway, Mette-Marit, travelled to Alta, Norway, one of the most northern populated regions in the world, to inaugurate a church sure to become a major destination for the area.

Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, the Cathedral of the Northern Lights’ most eye-catching feature, besides its circular form, is its belfry tower, which spirals upwards in smaller and smaller tiers, like a spool of unravelling ribbon. The tiers culminate to a needle-like point 47 metres above ground. Titanium cladding gives the church the look of a giant ice floe, though the firm choose the material to reflect the region’s extended darkness throughout the year and its dramatic light, in particular the phenomenal celestial skies produced by the Aurora Borealis.

According to principal architect John F. Lassen, “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.”

Inside the main area of the church, the architects toned down the drama, with concrete walls and wooden floors. Daylight enters through irregularly placed tall and narrow windows and via a skylight behind the altar.

The Cathedral of the Northern Lights is the latest in a number of cultural projects now underway by SHL. In January, the firm won a competition to design the New Cultural Centre and Library in Karlshamn, Sweden, and in Canada, two projects have broken ground: the Halifax Central Library in Nova Scotia, which is expected to open in 2014, and the Highlands Branch Library in Edmonton.

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