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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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Could the Cloud become a seminal example of 21st-century architecture? “I very much hope so. I mean, I can’t think of a precedent like it,” says team member Alex Haw, a London-based artist who trained as an architect. He contrasts the Cloud to the London Eye, the giant observation wheel that opened on the banks of the River Thames in 2000 as part of the millennium celebration. The operators of the Eye claim it is now London’s most popular paid tourist attraction.

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“The Eye is almost an 18th-century phenomenon, really, a 19th-century structure,” Mr. Haw says. “It’s an incredibly old-fashioned idea, a Ferris wheel.... We hope the Cloud will be a good example of something that could replace it.”

The chief challenges ahead, Haw says, are finding a large donor, whose commitment would then attract smaller donations, and looking for an appropriate building site.

Best use of resources?
Experts contacted by the Monitor remain intrigued by the Cloud, while expressing some reservations. “The real test will be whether the carbon footprint of this large-scale design will fulfill the original intentions,” says Mikyoung Kim, an environmental artist, urban designer, and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, in an e-mail. “I look forward to seeing ... this design concept come to fruition and only then can an assessment about its innovation be understood.”

Peter Bohlin, a partner at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., questions whether physical projects on this scale are appropriate given the world’s economic predicament. “One wonders if one can do many of these things in a more modest way that is more resource sensitive, and be more touching in the process,” says Mr. Bohlin, who was honored by the American Institute of Architects with its Gold Medal, the profession’s highest individual honor, in December. “I don’t know, but certainly these are questions.”

Bohlin adds that he doesn’t mean to sound negative. It’s “a wonderful, extraordinary challenge and one that interests me ... greatly,” he says. But in trying to employ cutting-edge technologies, the Cloud may confront long-range problems. “You can very easily be trapped in those technologies” after hitting unforeseen complications, he says.

“The Cloud is quite ethereal,” he says. “It’s really an interesting challenge how to make ephemeral things out of real materials.... It is hard to make dreams out of physical things.”

Some of the technologies may not work as expected, The New Republic’s Goldhagen points out. Each of them “has to pan out in the way they say it will in order for this monument to have the kind of effect that they are hoping it will,” she says. “We all should wish them absolutely the best and cross our fingers that they’re going to be able to [get it built].... These people are very cutting-edge engineers, so maybe they’re going to be able to pull it off.”

Team member Ratti, for one, says he’s optimistic that when the Olympics open in 2012 the Cloud will be a technological marvel floating overhead – and for a long time to come. “Hopefully, like the London Eye, it will stay forever,” he says.

[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the Cloud's Web address. It's raisethecloud.org.]

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