Saturday, January 30, 2010

For "Olympic Games", "London dreams" of a "Cloud castle"

In this artist’s conception of the Cloud, visitors walk – and cyclists ride – up spiral ramps. Real-time information about the 2012 Games will be projected onto the spheres – if the project gets off the ground.
Courtesy of The Cloud Project

Called simply “the Cloud,” the monument would consist of two slender towers rising hundreds of feet into the air. Atop the twin spires float digital displays and viewing platforms for the public, who would climb up by foot or bicycle using spiral ramps wrapped around one of the towers. The summit would also feature giant inflated plastic spheres, some of which visitors could enter. Real-time information about the Games and the surroundings would be displayed by Google.
In an emerging century with more and more online experience, the Cloud aims to form a connection from the virtual world to the real world, “from the world of bits to the physical world, the world of atoms,” says Carlo Ratti, head of the SENSEable Cities Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and a member of the international team working on the project. Other players include Arup, the architectural firm that designed the Sydney Opera House. Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher and popular novelist, is serving as an adviser.
The Cloud team wants both the finished product, and the way it is conceived and financed, to be revolutionary. While traditional monuments emphasize their grandeur and permanence by expressing a sense of mass and weight, the Cloud “upturns the monumental tradition” with its airy, almost ephemeral design, says Sarah Goldhagen, architecture critic for The New Republic.
“I think the idea is incredibly cool,” she says. Ms. Goldhagen, who also edits an academic journal on modern architecture, is one of three experts the Monitor asked to look at the plans for the Cloud, which are posted online at raisingthecloud
The Cloud is designed to be “carbon neutral,” creating the energy it needs to operate from the use of regenerative brakes (similar to those used on hybrid cars). While visitors put in the initial effort by climbing the monument, the Cloud scheme then produces electricity as an elevator lowers visitors back to the ground. Solar panels will also generate electricity.
An Internet-based effort
The design team, which has met only once, last summer, includes members in Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia, and the United States. It mostly works over the Internet with little formal structure, though Professor Ratti at MIT is acting as a coordinator.
The project is among a handful being considered by London Mayor Boris Johnson to become an official part of the London Games.
But even if the Cloud isn’t chosen by the mayor, its designers plan to find an appropriate venue in London in which to build it in time for the Games. “We can build our CLOUD with £5 million [$8 million] or £50 million,” says Ratti on the group’s website. “The flexibility of the structural system will allow us to tune the size of the CLOUD to the level of funding that is reached.”
The group will raise funds via the Internet using social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“We would like the Cloud to become a symbol of global ownership built through a bottom-up fundraising effort,” Ratti says on the website, akin to the effort used by President Obama’s campaign to collect a large number of small donations online.
The idea of a cloud also evokes “cloud computing,” the concept of storing, manipulating, and sharing data online rather than in an individual computer. Ratti also uses the high-tech buzzword “crowdsourcing” to indicate how he expects a wide number of people to contribute thinking and funding to the effort.
Google says it will supply content for the Cloud’s digital displays, using Google Trends, Google Maps, and its social-networking feature Google Latitude. “For instance, we could provide a custom feed of (aggregated and anonymous) searches made by Londoners during the Olympics to give a real time ‘barometer’ of the city’s interests and mood,” reads a statement from the search-engine giant. In addition, Google promises free advertising for the project through its website and YouTube, including fundraising efforts.


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