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For Olympic Games, London dreams of a Cloud castle

The Cloud, an ambitious structure planned for 2012 Olympics, has airy spheres, spiral walkways, data projection.

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The project is among a handful being considered by London Mayor Boris Johnson to become an official part of the London Games.

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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.

“[W]e 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.

Google’s feeds, Ratti says, could provide information to viewers near the Cloud about “energy use, spectator numbers, decibel levels, medal updates, transport patterns, mobile phone activity, Internet traffic, and [more].”

The shape of the Could evokes the elongated triangle of the Eiffel Tower standing on its head, something its designers see as itself a metaphor. While that 19th-century monument was a groundbreaking homage to the age of steel and heavy industry at the time, the Cloud involves “a lighter process that produces reams of data rather than plumes of smoke,” writes Dan Hill, a team member and consultant at Arup, on the website.