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Friday, November 13, 2009

London's 'Digital Cloud'

Cloud technology is fast becoming the method of choice for users that want to access all their information where-ever they are in the world... but an actual 'Digital Cloud' is being pondered to be a centre piece of the city's Olympic village.

The Cloud would 'float' over London's skyline and would be made up of 120m towers holding a series of interconnected plastic bubbles that would display images and data. It would also be used as an observation deck as well as a park

The unique structure has come from the minds of an international team of architects, artists and engineers and due to its 'flexible nature', the design team are planning to raise funds for the scheme by asking for micro-donations from millions of people.

"It's really about people coming together to raise the Cloud," Carlo Ratti, one of the architects behind the design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told BBC News.

"We can build our Cloud with £5m or £50m. The flexibility of the structural system will allow us to tune the size of the Cloud to the level of funding that is reached."

Depending on the amount of contributions, the Cloud's size could vary greatly. The concept photos released by the design team show a sprawling sight, but if the structure is completely dependant on the public, then it will be of crucial importance to convince the country that the structure is not another Millennium Dome.

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York who has seen the design described it as a "sculptural spectacle" and "a celebration of technology".

Championed by the Mayor

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said he is committed to building a tourist attraction in the Olympic Park "with a legacy for the east end [of London]" and thus far, The Cloud is in the short list. Despite no decision yet being reached, the Cloud's team have decided to release details, no doubt in a bid to drum up debate and attention to their decided.

The Cloud's team includes writer Umberto Eco and engineers from Arup and draws on work by artist Tomas Saraceno, a German-based designer who has previously shown off huge inflatable sculptures. Online giant Google have also shown support for the scheme and would provide much of the technology inside it such as the information feeds.

"We could provide a custom feed of...searches made by Londoners during the Olympics to give a real time 'barometer' of the city's interests and mood," the company said.

This combination of 'real time' information and art, be projected onto plastic sphere made from Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), the material used to build the Beijing Aquatic Centre. Whilst some would act as structural elements, LCD screens would be put in others to display the information. Other spheres would be habitable and even be filled with plants to become 'high rise parks'.

Ramps, stairs and lifts would carry people to the top of the structure to look out over the city, and the design team believes the structure could be so popular that it could become a major hub for people wanting to find out the latest results or to watch The Games.

Environment impact

In keeping with the Olympic Committee's desire to make the 2012 Olympics a 'green Olympics', The Cloud will also be a 'harvesting effort'. According to Alex Haw, digital design for the project, "people can choose to ascend The Cloud on foot or bicycle; the energy that it would take to descend the Cloud is converted, on the way down, into electricity through elevators with regenerative breaking, similar to those that are present in hybrid cars."

"The people's energy coupled with solar energy collected through on-site and off-site photovoltaic cells and various energy saving strategies will allow us to reach carbon neutrality, whereby the Cloud produces all the energy it uses."

With the power used, the spheres would also light up at night creating a spatial, 3D informational display over the skies of London.

The towers that would support the spheres would be similar to those used in Japanese skyscrapers to resist earthquakes, would prevent the towers being buffeted by the wind.

Now it's up to the Mayor of London to pick the green-light the scheme and the public to support it. Google has already offered to provide free advertising for the so-called "cloud-raising" effort and have offered a sponsored link at the top of the page advertising a "£1 for 1 pixel" concept to people who search for terms relevant to London 2012.

But what do you think? Inspirational or simply another eye sore in the capital?

If you want to find out more about The Cloud and give money, go to Think it's crazy? Comment below.