On Monday, international architect schmidt hammer lassen announced the inauguration of the Cathedral of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway, some 500 km (311 miles) inside the Arctic Circle. The metallic spiral form of the building, actually clad in titanium, almost resembles a piece of industrial rather than architectural design.

In 2001, the town of Alta launched a competition calling for a new church that would also stand as an architectural icon for the region. schmidt hammer lassen answered the call and, working alongside Link Arkitektur, came up with the unusual design.

The main body of the building spirals up in decreasingly-sized tiers which finally culminate in a tubular spire, with a belfry 47 meters (154 ft) above the ground. Daylight enters the building through slender oblong windows which are arranged something like the black keys on a church organ.

The cathedral covers an area of 1,917 sq m (20,634 sq ft) and seat a congregation of 350, though the church also includes administration areas, exhibition space and classrooms.

Titanium has several properties that make it desirable, if not exactly practical, as a building material. It's strong, relatively light, brilliant and resistant to corrosion. These last characteristics would have been particular desirable to the designers, as the cathedral is intended to literally reflect the Aurora Borealis.

“The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful,” said John F. Lassen (who puts the lassen into schmidt hammer lassen). “It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature.”

But before we create the impression that titanium is a construction wonder-material, it has its down sides. The metal does not occur naturally in elemental form, and is costly and intensive to produce.

Titanium cladding was used extensively at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum.

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