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502- 99% Vernacular: Volume 3

502- 99% Vernacular: Volume 3

99% Invisible 3 August 2022

Episode Description

In the final episode of our vernacular spectacular anniversary series, 99pi producers and friends of the show will be sharing more stories of regional architecture–some close to home, some on remote islands– that capture our imagination and inspire us to look deeper.  Stories of Bermuda roofs, Queen Anne Cottages, and what exactly counts as an "earth tone."

99% Vernacular: Volume 3

 

 

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507- Search and Ye Might Find

507- Search and Ye Might Find

Adam Rogers has been thinking and writing about what’s known in the industry simply as "search." For the last decade, people have been grumbling about not being able to find things online, both in our private data and on the public web, despite ever-evolving algorithms. Ever since humans started writing stuff down, the struggle has been in how to organize it all so that its contents wouldn't be lost in the stacks. Search has always been an attempt to fix that problem. Search and Ye Might Find

14 September 2022


506- Monumental Diplomacy

506- Monumental Diplomacy

In downtown Windhoek, Namibia -- at the intersection of Fidel Castro Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue -- there's an imposing gold building with an affectionate nickname: the Coffee Maker. This notable structure was built to commemorate Namibia’s fight for independence from apartheid South Africa, which it achieved in 1990. And for many of the visitors, the museum feels like a huge achievement. But for a museum that commemorates throwing off the chains of colonialism and forging a new era of self-determination, it has one pretty strange feature. It wasn't designed by a Namibian architect. It wasn't even designed by an African architect. It was built by North Korea's state-run design studio, which has long been a prolific maker of statues around the world. North Korea has left a distinct visual stamp across Africa in particular, with museums and monuments erected in more than a dozen African countries since the 1970s. Monumental Diplomacy

6 September 2022


505- First Errand

505- First Errand

Back in March, Netflix picked up a long running Japanese TV program based on a children’s book from the 1970s. The show is called Old Enough, but the name of the original Japanese program translates to My First Errand. Because in each episode, a child runs an errand for the very first time. Episodes are only 10 to 20 minutes long, but in that short time a toddler treats the audience to a bite-sized hero's journey.  My First Errand is a gimmicky show with hokey music and a laugh track, but it’s also rooted in a truth about Japanese society: most children are remarkably independent from a very young age -- way more independent than children in the US. In Japanese cities, fifth-graders make 85 percent of their weekday trips without a parent. And this remarkable child mobility is made possible by everything from the neighbors next door to the width of the streets. First Errand

30 August 2022


504- Bleep!

504- Bleep!

There's a particular one-kilohertz tone that is universally understood to be covering up inappropriate words on radio and TV. But there are other options, too, like silence -- so why did this particular *bleep* sound become ubiquitous? Bleep!

23 August 2022


What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law- The Longest Week

What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law- The Longest Week

In the final week of the  most recent term, the Supreme Court decided to limit one constitutional right (abortion) and expand another constitutional right (guns). But there were other cases decided that week, which were also important and marked this as one of the most historically significant terms in over 100 years. So what happened in those other cases and why are they so important? What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law Subscribe: Stitcher. Apple, Spotify

18 August 2022


503- Re:peat

503- Re:peat

A few years back, 99pi producer Emmett FitzGerald brought us a beautiful story about peat bogs. Peat is essential for biodiversity and for the climate – it is really, really good at storing carbon. But like a lot of things we cover on the show, peat often goes unnoticed, in part because it is literally out of sight underground. We’ve  noticed peat and carbon sequestration more and more in the news lately. Journalists have been brilliantly covering stories about the tree planting movement, private ownership of Scotland’s bogs, and the threat to peat in the Congo Basin. Couple that with more extreme weather happening in more places, we thought it would be a good idea to repeat this story. For the Love of Peat

10 August 2022


501- 99% Vernacular: Volume 2

501- 99% Vernacular: Volume 2

Only a small percentage of architecture is actually designed by architects. And while a famous architect-designed tower in a skyline might be the best way to identify a city at a distance, up close it’s the subtle cues and vernacular design that make the city what it is. This week, 99pi producers and friends of the show share more stories about architecture we love from our hometowns and other places we've lived, but with an emphasis on examples that may be a bit shaggier, and have somewhat more functional origins. These may not be the first things people call beautiful, but they’re beautiful to us, and they are essential parts of the places they’re built. 501- 99% Vernacular: Volume 2

26 July 2022


500- 99% Vernacular: Volume 1

500- 99% Vernacular: Volume 1

For the 500th episode of 99% Invisible, we started thinking about the kinds of designs that we love from the places we have lived -- and even some regional vernacular we love from places we haven’t lived, but just admire. 99% Invisible is all about who we are through the lens of the things we build. We often tell stories about how people shape the built world, but these are more about how the built world has shaped us. 99% Vernacular: Volume 1

19 July 2022


499- Say Aloe to My Little Frond

499- Say Aloe to My Little Frond

Houseplants are having a moment right now. In 2020, 66% of people in the US owned at least one plant, and sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Instagram accounts like House Plant Club have a million followers. Over the past decade there has been a steady stream of think pieces offering explanations for the emergence of this new obsession. But while millennials may have perfected the art of plant parenting, this is not the first time people have gotten completely obsessed with houseplants. Journalist Anne Helen Petersen digs into the history of domesticated plants in a series of articles on her Substack, Culture Study, and joins us to talk about what she's found. Say Aloe to My Little Frond

12 July 2022


498- The Octagon House

498- The Octagon House

99% Invisible producer emeritus Avery Trufelman traveled from New York to San Francisco recently, and took host Roman Mars to see an unusually shaped old building on the west side of the Bay. As it turns out, this peculiar octagonal home isn't unique -- there was a whole architectural fad of building these back in the mid 1800s, tapping into a parallel trend: self-improvement. Publisher Orson Fowler (most famous for being a phrenologist) used his professional position to self-publish a book about the many benefits, health and otherwise, of living in an octagonal home. His book, Octagon House: A Home For All, became a sensation. In its wake, hundreds of octagon houses started popping up all over the country. The Octagon House

5 July 2022


497- Hometown Village

497- Hometown Village

Sakhalin is a long, skinny island east of Russia's mainland. Russia and Japan have long fought over the territory, which has left the ethnic Koreans who came to work on the island starting in the early 1900s in a kind of limbo. Tatyana Kim, a native of Sakhalin, guides us through its unusual history and the difficulties of a repatriation that is long overdue. Hometown Village

28 June 2022


496- The Rights of Rice and Future of Nature

496- The Rights of Rice and Future of Nature

The Ojibwe name for wild rice is Manoomin, which translates to “the good berry.” The scientific name is Zizania palustris. It’s the only grain indigenous to North America, and while it might be called rice, it’s actually not closely related to brown or white rice at all. It has long played an important role in Ojibwe cultures, but last year, Manoomin took on a new role: plaintiff in a court case. Last August, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was sued by wild rice. The case of Manoomin v Minnesota Department of Natural Resources alleges that the Minnesota DNR infringed on the wild rice’s right to live and thrive. But can wild rice sue a state agency? The short answer is: yes. This is the story about what might happen if rice wins. The Rights of Rice and Future of Nature Support for this episode was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. RWJF is working to build a culture of health that ensures everyone in the United States has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. If you have a hunch about how changes to the way we live, learn, work and play today are shaping our future, share it here: www.shareyourhunch.org

21 June 2022


495- Meet Us by the Fountain

495- Meet Us by the Fountain

No teenager in America in the 1980s could avoid the gravitational pull of the mall, not even author Alexandra Lange. In her new book, Meet Me by the Fountain, Lange writes about how malls were conceptually born out of a lack of space for people to convene in American suburbs. Despite the fact indoor shopping malls are no longer in their heyday, malls have not gone away completely. Lange writes about the history of mall culture, and how the mall became a ubiquitous part of American life. Meet Us by the Fountain

14 June 2022


494- Flag Days: Unfolding a Moment

494- Flag Days: Unfolding a Moment

Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. At least, that's what we were taught in school. But when historians go searching…there’s no proof to be found. In this collaboration with the podcast Sidedoor, we unravel this vexillological tall tale to find out how this myth got started, and who Betsy Ross really was. Plus we talk about the real flag that inspired the song, The Star Spangled Banner. Flag Days: Unfolding a Moment

7 June 2022


493- Divining Provenance

493- Divining Provenance

Priceless cultural artifacts have been plundered and sold for hundreds of years. You can find these relics in museums and in private collections. In recent years, with the advent of online marketplaces, researchers have begun to find a lot of artifacts for sale on the web. The Syrian War has resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties. Not to mention, hundreds of billions in damages. And that battle has played out on land considered to be the cradle of civilization -- a place rich with layers of archeological history. Producer Zeina Dowidar and her team on the Kerning Cultures podcast tell stories about the Middle East and North Africa. For this episode, they took a comprehensive, inside look at how one country struggled to retain its cultural heritage in the midst of a brutal conflict. Divining Provenance Plus we have an interview and preview of the podcast Real Good

1 June 2022


492- Inheriting Froebel's Gifts

492- Inheriting Froebel's Gifts

In the late 1700s, a young man named Friedrich Froebel was on track to become an architect when a friend convinced him to pursue a path toward education instead. And in changing course, Froebel arguably ended up having more influence on the world of architecture and design than any single architect -- all because Friedrich Froebel created kindergarten. Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John, was an architect, but his most famous creation wasn’t a building. It was a toy set that kids have been playing with for over 100 years.  Inheriting Froebel's Gifts

24 May 2022


491- The Missing Middle

491- The Missing Middle

Downtown Toronto has a dense core of tall, glassy buildings along the waterfront of Lake Ontario. Outside of that, lots short single family homes sprawl out in every direction. Residents looking for something in between an expensive house and a condo in a tall, generic tower struggle to find places to live. There just aren’t a lot of these mid-sized rental buildings in the city. And it's not just Toronto -- a similar architectural void can be found in many other North American cities, like Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Vancouver. And this is a big concern for urban planners -- so big, there's a term for it. The "missing middle." That moniker can be confusing, because it's not directly about middle class housing -- rather, it's about a specific range of building sizes and typologies, including: duplexes, triplexes, courtyard buildings, multi-story apartment complexes, the list goes on. Buildings like these have an outsized effect on cities, and cities without enough of these kinds of buildings often suffer from their absence. The Missing Middle

18 May 2022


490- Train Set

490- Train Set

The greatest mode of transportation is the funicular, which is a special kind of train pulled by a cable that runs up steep slopes. But trains are great even when they're not going up treacherous terrain. And in that spirit: here are some of the most ambitious, fascinating, and downright crazy trains that the world has ever seen. Train Set

10 May 2022


Roman Mars on Blank Check with Griffin and David

Roman Mars on Blank Check with Griffin and David

Bonus episode: Roman Mars on Blank Check with Griffin and David talking about The Quick and The Dead (Sam Raimi, 1995) Roman note: I LOVE this show!  Many of us on the 99pi staff are huge fans and follow it religiously. If you've never heard or it, search through to find a director you like and listen to a whole series. You'll be hooked. Not just another bad movie podcast, Blank Check with Griffin & David reviews directors' complete filmographies episode to episode. Specifically, the auteurs whose early successes afforded them the rare ‘blank check’ from Hollywood to produce passion projects. Each new miniseries, hosts Griffin Newman and David Sims delve into the works of film’s most outsized personalities in painstakingly hilarious detail. Subscribe! It will make you happy! Apple, Stitcher, Spotify

6 May 2022


489- Pandemic Tracking and the Future of Data

489- Pandemic Tracking and the Future of Data

Data is the lifeblood of public health, and has been since the beginning of the field. But essential data gathering for the COVID pandemic was hindered by a couple of of underlying weakness in the US public health apparatus. We have a fractured system where the power lies in US states that don't always coordinate effectively. Also there has been inconsistent funding. When there was an immediate crisis, there would be an infusion of cash. But then, when the crisis passed, the resources would evaporate.  We take a look at data gathering in regards to public health from the 1600s to today and how it might change in the future. Support for this episode was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. RWJF is working to build a culture of health that ensures everyone in the United States has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. If you have a hunch about how changes to the way we live, learn, work and play today are shaping our future, share it here: www.shareyourhunch.org

4 May 2022


488- It’s a Small Aisle After All

488- It’s a Small Aisle After All

If you’ve ever been to a supermarket in the US, you’ve probably seen an ethnic food aisle. Maybe it was called the "international aisle," or "world foods," but it was the same idea. This is the “It’s A Small World After All” part of the shopping experience. It’s where you’ll find ramen next to coconut milk, next to plantain chips next to harissa. Although ethnic aisles look different in every supermarket, they’re often variations on the same theme. And while so-called “ethnic food brands” get a chance to feed the American masses, they’re still confined to the ethnic aisle. And they may never leave. It's a Small Aisle After All

26 April 2022


487- Atlas Obscura

487- Atlas Obscura

Standing on Beechey island, a peninsula off Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic, are four lonely graves: three members of an ill-fated expedition to the Northwest Passage, and one of the men who went looking for them. In 1845, Sir John Franklin led an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a direct route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across the arctic, on two ships that were called "unstoppable" at the time. They were stopped, though the exact circumstances remain murky. The story of the graves is chronicled on the Atlas Obscura Podcast, a short, daily celebration of the world's strange and wondrous places. The podcast has a mission similar to 99pi, which is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the world.  Today we're featuring two stories from the show. The second story visits the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, which bills itself as "the nation's only retailer of lost luggage." If you've ever lost a bag during air travel, it probably wound up there, along with many other treasures and oddities. Subscribe to Atlas Obscure on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get podcasts.

20 April 2022


486- Rumble Strip

486- Rumble Strip

Every year in the spring, small towns throughout New England host their annual town meeting. Town meetings take place in high school gyms or town halls, and anyone can come. In fact, in Vermont, Town Meeting Day is a public holiday. Everyone gets the day off work to make sure they have the chance to participate. It’s a moment when everyone who lives there can come together to talk out the issues facing the town and decide how they want to spend their money. Radio producer Erica Heilman lives in Vermont and is the host of a  jewel of a podcast called Rumble Strip. It’s ostensibly all about life in Vermont, but it may just also be about life in general.

13 April 2022


485- Murder Most Fowl

485- Murder Most Fowl

While urban parks are safe havens for birds, parks are often surrounded by condos and hotels and office buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows. And these all-glass building facades are the absolute worst for migrating birds. Because unlike people, birds don’t really understand glass. It’s believed that building collisions are one of the biggest causes of bird death. Birds crash into buildings during the day because they don’t see the glass, and they run into buildings at night because they are lured in by artificial lighting. Most of these collisions happen below 100 feet, because that’s where birds are used to landing in trees. Murder Most Fowl

5 April 2022


484- Dear Hank and John and Roman

484- Dear Hank and John and Roman

So why don't we have mouth Roombas? Is the universe full of chickens? What scientific advances are happening? What was the first internet purchase? How do I convince my parents to let me check a bag? What is Twitter? What's the difference between a telescope and a camera? Are sea monkeys natural? Hank Green and Roman Mars have answers! In their podcast Dear Hank & John, hosts John and Hank Green (who are also authors and YouTubers) offer both humorous and heartfelt advice about life’s big and small questions. They bring their personal passions to each episode by sharing the week’s news from Mars (the planet) and AFC Wimbledon (the third-tier English football club)." Dear Hank and John and Roman

30 March 2022


483- Grid Locked

483- Grid Locked

In February 2021, it began to snow in Austin, Texas, which was unusual, and exciting for some, at least until the power dropped out for millions of people. To many, this came as a shock – how could a state known for its energy production have such widespread, prolonged power outages? To understand the situation, one has to look at the history of the grid, and how Texas came to be what we call an “energy island.” It's the only state in the lower 48 that operates its own independent electric grid. For more on the Texas grid by Mose Buchele, be sure to check out The Disconnect. Grid Locked

22 March 2022


482- Natalie de Blois: To Tell the Truth

482- Natalie de Blois: To Tell the Truth

Natalie de Blois contributed to some of the most iconic Modernist works created for corporate America, all while raising four children. After leaving this significant mark on postwar Park Avenue, she transferred to the SOM Chicago office, where she became actively involved in the architecture feminist movement and was one of the leaders in the newly formed Chicago Women in Architecture advocacy group. Later, she finished her career as a professor at UT Austin, where she trained a future generation of architects. In the New Angle: Voice podcast, “Hear from historians, family, colleagues, and the women themselves, how it was to be an architect coming up in the early 20th century. Imagine sitting with these pioneering women, who opened up the magic of the built environment professions to all who had the gifts, grit and persistence to endure.”

15 March 2022


481- The Future of the Final Mile

481- The Future of the Final Mile

While something like dial-up might mostly be a thing of the past, the truth is copper phone lines still connect a lot of people to the internet over DSL. And even many people’s coaxial cable connections aren’t fast enough to meet the federal government’s definition of broadband (25 megabits per second download speed, and 3 megabit upload). Who gets fiber is determined by the market, and the market is determined not by who wants fiber, but really just who can already afford it. So for a lot of the country, the last mile remains a deep and vexing problem. Different cities have tried to solve that problem in different ways. Support for this episode was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, RWJF is working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. The Future of the Final Mile

11 March 2022


480- Broken Heart Park

480- Broken Heart Park

In the 1990s Dave Davis worked as the groundskeeper at a small neighborhood park in a suburb of St. Louis called Creve Coeur. It was an unpaid position, but it came with a strange perk: as part of the job, he got to live in a house on the grounds. On the outside, it looks like an ordinary ranch-style house, but once you got inside, something seemed a little off: it looked like someone had completed it in a hurry. It turns out that this house wasn’t supposed to be the home for the groundskeeper, and the park was never supposed to be a park.  It was private property that belonged to a prominent Black doctor back in the 1950s. But the land was taken from him before he could even finish building his home. Broken Heart Park

8 March 2022


479-According to Need wins duPont-Columbia Award

479-According to Need wins duPont-Columbia Award

The Columbia Journalism School recently announced the 16 winners of the 2022 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, including According to Need, a project of 99% Invisible produced by Katie Mingle. We listen back to a couple stories and get an update from Katie Mingle. According to Need wins duPont-Columbia Award

1 March 2022


478- Art Imitates Art

478- Art Imitates Art

There's a small neighborhood within the SEZ of Shenzhen that is known for mass-producing copies of the most celebrated works of Western art, all painted quickly and by hand. The place is called Dafen Village. There is a very good chance that you've been in the presence of a painting made in Dafen. Perhaps you passed by one at the dentist’s office, or in a conference room of a Marriott in Orlando. You may have even hung one up in your home without even realizing it.  To learn more about the origin of Special Economic Zones listen to the previous episode Call of Duty: Free Art Imitates Art

22 February 2022


477- Call of Duty: Free

477- Call of Duty: Free

On the west coast of Ireland, on the banks of an estuary dividing county Limerick from county Clare, lies a small town called Shannon. But Shannon is not a quaint fishing village or farming community. Its industry is its airport. And Shannon Airport is big. It handles up to 1.7 million passengers and 20,000 flights a year, most of them from other countries. It looks like a cosmopolitan international airport, but it has a unique claim to fame: the world's first airport duty-free store. Today, the store has what you would expect -- designer perfumes, jewelry and various fine foods, with a lot of local (in this case Irish) products in particular. But like the area around the airport, the shop started out small, with a local boy from the area who would go on to change the world of tax-free commerce in and beyond Shannon. Call of Duty: Free

16 February 2022


476- Reaction Offices and the Future of Work

476- Reaction Offices and the Future of Work

People have been going back and forth about what makes a healthy and productive office since there have been offices. The 20th century was full of misbegotten fads and productivity innovations that continue to this day, even when the whole notion of what it means to be in an office has shifted during the pandemic. In this first episode of our series "The Future Of..." we look at the past, present, and future of the office through the lens of the office furniture that has been designed to solve all our problems. Support for this episode was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, RWJF is working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. Reaction Offices and the Future of Work

9 February 2022


475- Rock Paper Scissors Bus

475- Rock Paper Scissors Bus

When the two greatest auction houses in the world – Christie’s and Sotheby’s – vied for the privilege of auctioning off $20 million worth of art in 2004, little did they know that they would be forced to engage in an ancient form of ritualized combat known as rock paper scissors. Plus, we get a hilarious breakdown of the Shang-Chi bus fight scene by a real San Francisco Muni bus operator, Mc Allen. Rock Paper Scissors Bus Subscribe to Snap Judgment

2 February 2022


474- The Punisher Skull

474- The Punisher Skull

The Punisher has always been a complicated Marvel antihero: a man whose creator imagined him as a reaction to the failures of government at home and in the Vietnam War. So why is the Punisher’s trademark dripping skull insignia — a menacing image used throughout history to denote imminent death — being painted on police vehicles, adopted by members of the military, and donned by white supremacists? This episode of Endless Thread explores the story of The Punisher’s symbol as a meme, and looks at how well we understand its origins, its use today, and whether its creator — or Marvel — can take it back.

25 January 2022


473- Mini-Stories : Volume 14

473- Mini-Stories : Volume 14

At the end of the calendar year and into the new year the 99pi staff collects a bunch of short, joyful little stories that are fun to produce and make us happy. We call them mini-stories. This is the third and final episode of this batch and the 14th volume overall and it’s a good one- we have surprisingly architectural sport commentary, Ben Franklin’s role in Daylight Saving Time, and the origin story of the fire pole. Mini-Stories : Volume 14

19 January 2022


472- Mini-Stories : Volume 13

472- Mini-Stories : Volume 13

We're kicking off the new year at 99pi with a fresh installment of mini-stories, including: a strange collision of mundane infrastructure and political insurrection; a graphic design history mystery dating back to the 1980s; what may be the most hated architectural design of 2021; and a record-breaking album cover design so cutting edge it cost more money to make than to buy. Mini-Stories: Volume 13 Get Beauty Pill's Instant Night Get New Order's Blue Monday

12 January 2022


471- Mini-Stories : Volume 12

471- Mini-Stories : Volume 12

It's that time of year again! When 99pi producers and friends of the show join Roman to tell shorter stories, many of which have been sitting on our idea shelves, just waiting for this moment. Our first set of minis delves into the surprisingly controversial logo of a major sports league; a wild goose chase into erroneous statistics; the largely forgotten arts competitions of the Olympic Games; and a Modernist penguin pool that is beloved by preservationists but not so adored by actual penguins. And this is the first batch of our turn-of-the-year mini-stories. Tune back in for more minis at the beginning of 2022! Mini-Stories: Volume 12

22 December 2021


470- The Three Santas of Slovenia

470- The Three Santas of Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe nestled between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It's a land of snowy white peaks, green valleys, and turquoise rivers. The country is beautiful in all seasons, but it is perhaps at its most magical around Christmastime. This nation of just over 2 million people is visited by, not one, not two, but three different "santas" every festive season. But it hasn't always been this way. Each Santa has had his moment in the spotlight—each in a different period of Slovenia’s complicated history. And in order to have a Christmas season that reflects that history and speaks to all Slovenians, you need three magical men. The Three Santas of Slovenia

15 December 2021


469- The Epic of Collier Heights

469- The Epic of Collier Heights

For Black Americans, Collier Heights became a suburban jewel in the postwar South spanning thousands of acres and packed with nature. Just as amazing as the expansive beauty is how this neighborhood came to be, especially given everything that stood in the way. Collier Heights was established in the early 1950s, when redlining and racial zoning all put hard limits on where black people could live. Driving its development was a team of community leaders who used cold, sharp strategy, flipping the logic of Jim Crow housing segregation on its head. The Epic of Collier Heights

7 December 2021


468- Alphabetical Order

468- Alphabetical Order

In much of the western world, alphabetical order is simply a default we take for granted. It’s often the one we try first -- or the one we use as a last resort when all the other ordering methods fail. It’s boring, but it works, and it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine not using it. But despite its endurance for most of its history, the alphabet wasn’t initially used to order much of anything. Judith Flanders, author of A Place For Everything, a history of alphabetical order, says that in societies like ancient Rome and early medieval Europe, writing implements were still rare. So what mattered most was organizing knowledge in a way that helped you to memorize it. And that was usually much easier to do in the order you naturally came across the information, like: chronologically, or by size, or geography, or region, or hierarchically. Alphabetical Order

1 December 2021


467- Cute Little Monstrosities of Nature

467- Cute Little Monstrosities of Nature

The French bulldog is now the second most popular breed in America. Their cute features, portable size, and physical features make for a dog that can easily travel and doesn't require a lot of exercise. But these characteristics sometimes have a detrimental effect on the dog's health. Tove K. Danovich writes "Rather than requiring human owners to change their lives to accommodate a new dog, the French bulldog is a breed that’s been broken to accommodate us." Historically, dogs were bred for functional reasons, not aesthetics. But evaluating a breed based on how they accomplish a task is tricky, leading to the rise of visual standards more easily judged. As breed standards were formalized, purebred dogs grew in popularity and became a luxury of sorts; but with a limited genetic pool, this popularity naturally led to a lot of inbreeding to maintain breed consistency. Cute Little Monstrosities of Nature

23 November 2021


466- The Weight

466- The Weight

Fitness trends come and go. But the simple weight is an anchor in the shifting tides of culture. As workout equipment has become canonized within the realm of home appliances, this heavy metal object aids in our dual — and sometimes conflicting — pursuit of athletics and aesthetics. In season 2 of the Nice Try! podcast, show host and former 99pi producer Avery Trufelman heads inside the home, interrogating how individuals channel utopian ambitions through the lifestyle technologies and home goods that determine the ways we clean, cook, exercise, and sleep in order to lead better lives. But the problems these objects are designed to solve, and the way they solve them, promote a distinctly American ideal that prioritizes personal betterment over improving society as a whole.

17 November 2021


465- Shirley Cards

465- Shirley Cards

Even if we think of the camera as a neutral technology, it is not. In the vast spectrum of human colors, photographic tools and practices tend to prioritize the lighter end of that range. One example of this bias was Kodak's Shirley Card, a reference photo used to calibrate photo printing machines.  For decades all of the models on the Shirley Cards were white. This meant that photographs of people with darker skin tones were often not printed correctly. But that's just one example of the limited dynamic range of photography purposefully excluding people with darker skin. Shirley Cards

10 November 2021


464- Finding Julia Morgan

464- Finding Julia Morgan

Born in 1872, American architect and engineer Julia Morgan designed hundreds of buildings over her prolific career, famous for her work on incredible structures like the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the architecture program at l'École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. But it wasn't until 2014 that she became the the first woman to receive American Institute of Architects’ highest award, the AIA Gold Medal, posthumously. In the New Angle: Voice podcast, "Hear from historians, family, colleagues, and the women themselves, how it was to be an architect coming up in the early 20th century. Imagine sitting with these pioneering women, who opened up the magic of the built environment professions to all who had the gifts, grit and persistence to endure."

2 November 2021


463- Fifty-Four Forty or Fight

463- Fifty-Four Forty or Fight

At a glance, the border between the United States and Canada would seem to be at the friendlier end of the international boundary spectrum. But even though the US-Canada border is now pretty tame, when two countries touch each other over a stretch of 5500 miles, it can result in some surprisingly weird disputes, misunderstandings,  geographical quirks and ...really good stories.  Fifty-Four Forty or Fight

26 October 2021


462- I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine

462- I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine

Margarine is yellow, like butter, but it hasn't always been. At times and in places, it has been a bland white, or even a dull pink. These strange variations were a byproduct of 150-year war to destroy margarine, and everything that it stands for. During this epic fight for survival, margarine has had to reinvent itself, over and over again.  I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine

19 October 2021


461- Changing Stripes

461- Changing Stripes

Rioters carried many familiar flags during the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol -- Confederate, MAGA, as well as some custom-made ones like a flag of Trump looking like Rambo. Except for onlookers who were already familiar with the design, it would have been easy to overlook one particular bright yellow flag with three red horizontal stripes across the center. This was the flag of South Vietnam. There were actually several confounding international flags present at the Capitol riot that day: the Canadian, Indian, South Korean flags, all were spotted somewhere in the mayhem. But what was peculiar about the Vietnamese flag being there was that it's not technically the flag of Vietnam but the Republic of Vietnam, a country that no longer exists. And what this flag stands for (or should stand for) remains a really contentious issue for the Vietnamese American community. Changing Stripes

12 October 2021


323- The House that Came in the Mail Again

323- The House that Came in the Mail Again

The Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early 20th century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. Anyone anywhere in the country could order a copy for free, look through it, and then have anything their heart desired delivered directly to their doorstep. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. Today, those 1,400 pages provide us with a snapshot of American life in the first decade of the 20th century, from sheep-shearing machines and cream separators to telephones and china cabinets. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world -- itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses.   Buy The 99% Invisible City!

5 October 2021


460- Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse

460- Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse

When it comes to English spelling and pronunciation, there is plenty of rhyme and very little reason. But what is the reason for that? Why among all European languages is English so uniquely chaotic today? To help us answer that question, we spoke with linguist and longtime friend of the show, Arika Okrent, author of the new book Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language. In it, Arika explores the origins of those phonetic paradoxes, and it turns out some of the reasons for confusion are as counterintuitive as the words themselves. Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse

28 September 2021


459- Yankee Pyramids

459- Yankee Pyramids

Presidential libraries are tributes to greatness, "[a] self-congratulatory, almost fictional account of someone's achievements, where all the blemishes are hidden," explains one New York architect.  But they're also a "weird mix of a historical repository of records and things that have a lot of meaning." Studying their origins and evolution, one can begin to see how presidential libraries have always involved tensions and contradictions. Yankee Pyramids The premise of using the extreme example of Trump to heighten the contradictions of executive branch norms is what we do on Roman's other podcast What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law. It's good! And it's not really about Trump, so don't worry. It's essentially a current events based Constitutional Law class taught by an incredible professor, Elizabeth Joh. We included the latest episode here for you to check out.

21 September 2021


458- Real Fake Bridges

458- Real Fake Bridges

The great Jacob Goldstein, author of Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing, stops by to tell us two stories about the design of paper currency around the world. First, the story of the making of the Euro banknotes, the design of which was supposed to unify Europe and not rely on any one country's national heroes or monuments. Then we learn about China's early pioneering experiments in paper currency, hundreds of years before it caught on in the rest of the world.  Real Fake Bridges

14 September 2021


457- Model Organism

457- Model Organism

Axolotls are nature’s great regenerators. They are able to grow back not just their tails, but also legs, arms, even parts of vital organs, including their hearts. This remarkable ability is one of several traits that turned the axolotl into a scientific superstar. The axolotl is one of the most abundant laboratory animals in biology. They can be found swimming in tanks at universities all around the world. But in the wild they’ve only ever been found in one place: Mexico City. Model Organism

7 September 2021


456- Full Spectrum

456- Full Spectrum

In 2015 the world was divided into two warring factions overnight. And at the center of this schism was a single photograph. Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of a dress that she planned to wear to her daughter's wedding and that photo went beyond viral. Some saw it as blue with black trim; others as white with gold trim. For his part, Wired science writer Adam Rogers knew there was more to the story -- a reason different people looking at the same object could come to such radically divergent conclusions about something as simple as color. Rogers recently wrote a book titled Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern. In this episode, Roman Mars talks with the author about how the pursuit to organize, understand, and create colors has been one of the driving forces shaping human history, starting with the story of this hotly debated piece of apparel from 2015 then winding back through built environments of global World's Fairs. Full Spectrum

31 August 2021


455- A Field Guide to Water

455- A Field Guide to Water

What does water mean to you? In this feature, author Bonnie Tsui (Why We Swim), actress Joy Bryant, submarine pilot Erika Bergman, figure skater Elladj Baldé, 85-year-old synchronized swimmer Barbara Eison-White, professional mermaid Olivia Gonzales, and others share stories about the many ways water influences our lives. From Pop-Up Magazine, creators of this Field Guide series: "We recommend listening outside, near water if you can. Head to the ocean if you’re on the coast. Or walk to a nearby pond or creek. Sit by a fountain at a park. Or just pour yourself a glass of water." Plus, an excerpt of Roman Mars On The Anatomy Of A Good Story (w/ Michelle Fournet, Roman Mars, Pedro Pascal), part of the Periodic Talks podcast. It's a show about what gets people curious, from virtual experiences to celestial bodies, with Gillian Jacobs (Community, Netflix's LOVE) and Diona Reasonover (NCIS) A Field Guide to Water

17 August 2021


454- War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design

454- War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design

When Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt were promoting The 99% Invisible City in late 2020, one question came up over and over again in conversations and interviews about our built environment: in what ways will the COVID pandemic change cities long term? Realistically, it's hard to answer a question about the future while in the midst of a crisis, but we can look to and extrapolate from precedents, like: designs born out of past disasters. War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design

10 August 2021


453- The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

453- The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

Officially titled The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, it was often known simply as “Kniga” (translated: "book") because it was one of the only cookbooks to exist in the Soviet Union. The volume is peppered with glossy photographs of really lavish spreads and packed with text as well. There are recipes for lentils and crab salad and how to cook buckwheat nine different ways. But this book was meant to do so much more than show people how to make certain dishes — it's a Stalinist document aimed at addressing hunger itself in the USSR. "The book" was at the vanguard of a radical Soviet food experiment that, despite its numerous obstacles, transformed Russian cuisine. The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

4 August 2021


452- The Lows of High Tech

452- The Lows of High Tech

Britt Young is a geographer and tech writer based in the Bay Area. She also has what's called a "congenital upper limb deficiency." In other words, she was born without the part of her arm just below her left elbow. She's used different sorts of prosthetic devices her whole life, and in 2018, she celebrated the arrival of a brand new, multi-articulating prosthetic hand. This prosthetic hand has a sleek carbon fiber casing, with specific pre-programmed grips that she can control just by flexing the muscles in her residual limb. She can use a precision pinch to pick a hairpin off of the table, or a Hulk-style power fist to squeeze objects. This kind of assistive technology has been life-changing for a lot of people who have limb differences. But for Britt, in particular, it hasn't been life-changing at all. In fact, her cutting-edge bionic arm has been a pretty major disappointment. "It's just not what you imagine. It's not like I'm like everyone else now, it's something different." The Lows of High Tech

27 July 2021


451- Hanko

451- Hanko

Hanko, sometimes called insho, are the carved stamp seals that people in Japan often use in place of signatures. Hanko seals are made from materials ranging from plastic to jade and are about the size of a tube of lipstick. The end of each hanko is etched with its owner’s name, usually in the kanji pictorial characters used in Japanese writing. This carved end is then dipped in red cinnabar paste and impressed on a document as a form of identification. Hanko seals work like signatures, only instead of signing on a dotted line, you impress your hanko in a small circle to prove your identity. But unlike a signature, which you can make with any old pen or touch screen, in Japan you need to have your own personal hanko with you whenever you stamp something, and you have to stamp it in person.

20 July 2021


450- Stuff the British Stole

450- Stuff the British Stole

Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today those objects are housed in genteel institutions across the UK and the world. They usually come with polite plaques. The ABC podcast Stuff the British Stole is a six episode series about the not-so-polite history behind a few of those objects. We’re going to play the first episode and Roman talks to the presenter and creator Marc Fennell about the series. Stuff the British Stole

14 July 2021


449- Mine!

449- Mine!

Every year, fights break out on airplanes. They happen between the people who lean back in their seats, and the people who get their knees smooshed. Sometimes planes have to be grounded because of these arguments. If you think about it, these arguments are the result of confusion. Both people paid for a seat on the airplane, but it's unclear who owns the space behind it. Jim Salzman and Michael Heller are law professors and the authors of a new book called Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives. They write about these common instances where ownership is not clear cut. According to Salzman and Heller, confusing ownership rules are often the result of poor ownership design. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. Mine!

29 June 2021


448- Katie Mingle's Right to Roam

448- Katie Mingle's Right to Roam

We revisit Katie Mingle's Right to Roam episode as we say goodbye In the United Kingdom, the freedom to walk through private land is known as “the right to roam.” The movement to win this right was started in the 1930s by a rebellious group of young people who called themselves “ramblers” and spent their days working in the factories of Manchester, England. Right to Roam

23 June 2021


447- Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green

447- Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green

After Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last year, tens of thousands of people all over the world took to the streets to protest police violence against Black people. And if you look at images from these marches, you will probably start to notice a common color scheme -- one involving a lot of red, black, and green. The flag was invented to unite Black people all over the world living under racial repression. When it first came into existence, the flag posed some bold questions about where Black people owed their loyalty: was it to the nations where their lives were demeaned and threatened? Or to a new nation - one they would build entirely for themselves? For hundreds of thousands of Black people, the red-black-and-green symbolized the answer.  Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green

15 June 2021


446- Flag Days: Good Luck, True South

446- Flag Days: Good Luck, True South

Correction: Our staff producer pronounced the the Japanese word "ōbōn" incorrectly in this episode. It is pronounced OH-bohn not oh-BAHN. Let us be the first to wish you a Happy Flag Day, beautiful nerds!  Anyone who has listened to 99% Invisible regularly knows we have a thing for flags, which can beautiful things that give communities something symbolic to rally around. This year, we decided to get the celebration started early then keep the party going with two whole weeks of flag-related stories. They look like normal Japanese flags (hinomaru) at a glance, but upon inspection, they are covered in handwritten notes often radiating outward in kanji from the central red circle (a sun against a field of white). Different messages are written in different hands directly on the fabric. These so-called "good luck flags" were gifted to soldiers, particularly during WWII, as part of a send-off from loved ones -- and their name in English comes from one of the most commonly written phrases on them: good luck. Antarctica is a wonderfully strange place, and not just because of its infamously frigid climate. This huge landmass doesn’t have an independent government or even a permanent human population. It also has a lot of flags, though strangely: no single official one. Flag Days: Good Luck, True South

8 June 2021


445- The Clinch

445- The Clinch

After Producer Katie Mingle's mom wrote a romance novel, Katie set out to understand the romance genre and its classic covers. There was a lot to unpack.  The Clinch

2 June 2021


444- Pipe Dreams

444- Pipe Dreams

Most people probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about their toilets, but they are both a modern marvel while also being somewhat of a failure of systems design. On the one hand, it has created a vast sanitation system that has helped add decades to human lifespan by reducing disease. But on the other hand, less than half of the world’s population can access a toilet that safely manages bodily waste, including many right here in the United States. We use about 100 trillion gallons of water for toilets every year at a time when water is becoming more scarce. While we see radical technological change in almost every other aspect of our lives, we remain stuck in a sanitation status quo—in part because the topic of toilets is taboo. Pipe Dreams

25 May 2021


443- Matters of Time

443- Matters of Time

For the most part, we take time for granted; maybe we don’t have enough of it, but we at least know how it works --- well, most of the time. A lot of what we think about time is relatively recent, and some of what we take for granted isn't quite as universal as one might think. This series of time-centric stories challenges what you know (or think you know) about the way time works around the world. Matters of Time

19 May 2021


442- Tanz Tanz Revolution

442- Tanz Tanz Revolution

Today, Berlin is one of the premier destinations for techno music fans. People come from all over the world to party all night to the rhythmic beat of Berlin's club scene. And this music that the city is most famous for developed in large part because of the thing the city is most infamous for: the Berlin wall, which divided the city into east and west for almost thirty years. When the wall fell in 1989, everyone was euphoric and parties started popping up everywhere. East Berlin was like a big playground of derelict buildings. It wasn't just the abandoned apartments. There were also former military sites and factories that had been shut down and buildings that had been condemned. And these places were perfect for techno. Tanz Tanz Revolution

11 May 2021


441- Abandoned Ships

441- Abandoned Ships

If you look around you right now, about 90% of what you’re looking at came to you onboard a cargo ship—your television, your sofa, most of the stuff in your kitchen. But as the number of these cargo ships has increased, so has a problem: workers stuck on ships that have been completely abandoned by the owners, leaving them stranded out at sea without basic supplies like food. In some cases, seafarers (that's the industry term for cargo ship workers) have been stuck on these abandoned vessels without enough supplies for months, or even years. Abandoned Ships This episode was produced in collaboration with the podcast Kerning Cultures, a podcast that makes audio stories - like this one - from the Middle East and North Africa.

4 May 2021


308- Curb Cuts (Repeat)

308- Curb Cuts (Repeat)

If you live in an American city and you don’t personally use a wheelchair, it's easy to overlook the small ramp at most intersections, between the sidewalk and the street. Today, these curb cuts are everywhere, but fifty years ago -- when an activist named Ed Roberts was young -- most urban corners featured a sharp drop-off, making it difficult for him and other wheelchair users to get between blocks without assistance. Curb Cuts plus a special announcement from Roman Mars about the future of 99pi.

28 April 2021


440- La Brega in Levittown

440- La Brega in Levittown

On the show this week, we’re bringing you an episode of a new podcast called, La Brega. And to tell us all about the series is Alana Casanova-Burgess. Casanova-Burgess traces back the story of the boom and bust of Levittown, a massive suburb that was founded on the idea of bringing the American middle-class lifestyle to Puerto Rico during a time of great change on the island. Casanova-Burgess (herself the granddaughter of an early Levittown resident) explores what the presence of a Levittown in Puerto Rico tells us about the promises of the American Dream in Puerto Rico. La Brega in Levittown Subscribe to La Brega on Sitcher, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify

20 April 2021


439- Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux

439- Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux

Kurt and Roman talk about icebergs and how we visualize them all wrong. Plus, we visit a classic 99pi story by Emmett FitzGerald about visualizing dinosaurs. At least for the time being, art is the primary way we experience dinosaurs. We can study bones and fossils, but barring the invention of time travel, we will never see how these animals lived with our own eyes. There are no photos or videos, of course, which means that if we want to picture how they look, someone has to draw them. The illustrated interpretation of dinosaur morphology and behavior has had a big impact on how the public views dinosaurs and it's gone through a couple of key turning points, including a more recent push for more speculative paleoart. Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux

14 April 2021


438- The Real Book

438- The Real Book

Since the mid-1970s, almost every jazz musician has owned a copy of the same book. It has a peach-colored cover, a chunky, 1970s-style logo, and a black plastic binding. It’s delightfully homemade-looking—like it was printed by a bunch of teenagers at a Kinkos. And inside is the sheet music for hundreds of common jazz tunes—also known as jazz “standards”—all meticulously notated by hand. It’s called the Real Book. But if you were going to music school in the 1970s, you couldn’t just buy a copy of the Real Book at the campus bookstore. Because the Real Book... was illegal. The world’s most popular collection of Jazz music was a totally unlicensed publication. The full story of how the Real Book came to be this bootleg bible of jazz is a complicated one. It’s a story about what happens when an insurgent, improvisational art form like Jazz gets codified and becomes something that you can learn from a book. The Real Book

7 April 2021


437- Science Vs Snakes

437- Science Vs Snakes

More than 100,000 people die every year from snake bites. Snake venom can have up to 200 different toxins inside it and each toxin has a different horrible effect to your body. Some attack your muscles, while others attack your nerves. And sometimes two different toxins can work together to form an even more sinister combination. Part of the reason people are dying is because they're not getting antivenom - the medicine required to fight these horrible toxins - fast enough. The system we have to create snake antivenom is a time-consuming and inefficient process that basically hasn't changed for more than 100 years. This is a collaboration with the great podcast Science Vs from Gimlet Science Vs Snakes

30 March 2021


436- Oops, Our Bad

436- Oops, Our Bad

In the 20th century, humans became very good at the control of nature, but now that we’ve spent some time with the consequences, such as species extinction and climate change, humans are focused on the control of the control of nature. In this episode, Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky, talks about everything from the introduction of poisonous frogs in Australia to launching diamond dust into the stratosphere. Oops, Our Bad

23 March 2021


435- The Megaplex!

435- The Megaplex!

Back in the early 1990s, movie theaters weren't that great. The auditoriums were cramped and narrow, and the screen was dim. But in 1995, the AMC Grand 24 in Dallas changed everything. It was the very first movie megaplex in the United States. This is the gigantic, neon, big-box store of moviegoing that we're all used to  today, and it's easy to dismiss as a tacky ‘90s invention. But the megaplex—specifically this first megaplex in Dallas—upended the entire theater business and changed the kinds of movies that got made in ways you might not imagine. The Megaplex!

16 March 2021


434- Artistic License

434- Artistic License

Idaho was the first state to slap a slogan on a license plate, “Idaho Potatoes,” which may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out this idea would end up having outsized consequences, and not just for Idaho. Because what started in one state would soon spread. And when it did, the question of what should go on a license plate, and what shouldn't, would prove surprisingly contentious. Artistic License Like 99pi? Get the 99pi book: The 99% Invisible City

9 March 2021


433- Florence Nightingale: Data Viz Pioneer

433- Florence Nightingale: Data Viz Pioneer

Victorian nurse Florence Nightingale (played in this episode by her distant cousin Helena Bonham Carter) is a hero of modern medicine - but her greatest contribution to combating disease and death resulted from the vivid graphs she made to back her public health campaigns. Her charts convinced the great and the good that deaths due to filth and poor sanitation could be averted - saving countless lives. But did Nightingale open Pandora's Box, showing that graphs persuade, whether or not they depict reality? Cautionary Tales is a podcast by Tim Harford from Pushkin Industries. You can read more about the remarkable legacy of Florence Nightingale and the perils of misinformation in Tim Harford's new book The Data Detective (US/Canada) / How To Make The World Add Up (UK / International).

2 March 2021


432- The Batman and the Bridge Builder

432- The Batman and the Bridge Builder

Mark Bloschock is an engineer from Texas, and in the late 1970s he got a job with the Texas Department of Transportation renovating the Congress Avenue Bridge. The bridge was a simple concrete arch bridge that spans Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. It needed to be rebuilt with more contemporary beams called “box beams.” The box beams sit below the road’s surface, and they needed to be spaced a certain distance apart. Bloschock and the other engineers decided that the gap should be somewhere between ¾ of an inch and an inch and a half, which didn’t seem like a particularly meaningful decision… until the bats moved in. A tale of bats and bridges and how the built environment and the natural environment don’t need to be at odds with one another. The Batman and the Bridge Builder Plus, we talk with Simon Doble, CEO of Solar Buddy. Light access (both day and night) is a basic need many people take for granted. SolarBuddy is an Australian charity uniting a global community with a big dream to gift six million solar lights to children living in energy poverty by 2030, to help them to study after dusk and improve their education outcomes. 99% Invisible’s Impact Design coverage is supported by Autodesk. The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Learn more about these efforts on Autodesk’s Redshift, which tells stories about the future of making across architecture, engineering, infrastructure and manufacturing.

23 February 2021


431- 12 Heads from the Garden of Perfect Brightness

431- 12 Heads from the Garden of Perfect Brightness

The story of the twelve bronze zodiac heads that are at the center of a fight over the repatriation of Chinese cultural heritage. Most believe all such cultural artifacts should return to China, but many others argue that these objects are also serving as nationalistic propaganda. 12 Heads from the Garden of Perfect Brightness

16 February 2021


Judas and the Black Messiah, Episode 1: The Chairman

Judas and the Black Messiah, Episode 1: The Chairman

Proximity, 99% Invisible, and Warner Bros. present the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” an official film companion from the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX. In the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” host and critic Elvis Mitchell of KCRW is joined by Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. — son of Chairman Fred Hampton and head of the Black Panther Party Cubs — as well as the film’s actors and creative team, and by members of the Black Panther Party who knew Chairman Fred Hampton. Together, they look at the true stories behind the events portrayed in the film. In episode 1, we get the real story of how Fred Hampton became The Chairman. Watch the film and subscribe to the rest of the series here: Apple Podcasts Stitcher

12 February 2021


430- The Doom Boom

430- The Doom Boom

Bradley Garrett is the author of Bunker: Building for the Times. People have always built underground survival shelters to stay safe from things like plagues or hurricanes. But in modern history, we've really outdone ourselves. Garrett will be our guide to the fascinating world of architecture for the end times. And we're going to find out why today we're going through a true bunker renaissance. The Doom Boom

9 February 2021


Judas and the Black Messiah Trailer from 99% Invisible and Proximity Media

Judas and the Black Messiah Trailer from 99% Invisible and Proximity Media

Proximity, 99% Invisible, and Warner Bros. present the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” an official film companion from the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX. In the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” host and critic Elvis Mitchell of KCRW is joined by Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. — son of Chairman Fred Hampton and head of the Black Panther Party Cubs — as well as the film’s actors and creative team, and by members of the Black Panther Party who knew Chairman Fred Hampton. Together, they look at the true stories behind the events portrayed in the film. Subscribe and look for episode 1 February 12 Apple Podcasts Stitcher

8 February 2021


429- Stuccoed in Time

429- Stuccoed in Time

Santa Fe is famous in part for a particular architectural style, an adobe (mudbrick) look that came to be called Pueblo Revival. This aesthetic combines elements of indigenous pueblo architecture and the New Mexico's old Spanish missions, resulting in mostly low, brown buildings with smooth edges. Buildings in the city's historical districts in particular have to follow a number of design guidelines so that they fit this desired look; deviating from those aesthetics can stir up a lot of controversy.  But this adherence to a single style hasn't always been the norm -- for a time, there was actually a powerful push to "Americanize" the city's built environment. Then, over a century ago, a group of preservationists laid out a vision for the look and feel of Santa Fe architecture, and in the process changed the city forever. Stuccoed in Time

2 February 2021


428- Beneath the Skyway

428- Beneath the Skyway

Cities around the world have distinctive modes of transportation -- the canals of Venice, the double-decker busses of London, and the Twin Cities (of Minneapolis and St. Paul) have skyways. In both downtowns, there are vast networks of climate-controlled pedestrian bridges that reach over the streets and connect adjacent buildings. They were long viewed as modern marvels, but a lot of residents and urban planners want them gone. For critics, skyways are problematic because of who gets to enjoy them and who does not as well as their impact on street activity below. Beneath the Skyway

26 January 2021


427- Mini-Stories: Volume 11

427- Mini-Stories: Volume 11

In this set of short stories, 99% Invisible producers talked with host Roman Mars about everything from the Fresh Air Movement to the lost Lenin in Antarctica. Mini-Stories: Volume 11

20 January 2021


426- Mini-Stories: Volume 10

426- Mini-Stories: Volume 10

In this set of short stories, 99% Invisible producers talked with host Roman Mars about everything from climate-changing sheep to the persistent urban legend behind the invention of a space pen. Mini-Stories: Volume 10 99% Invisible’s Impact Design coverage is supported by Autodesk. Autodesk enables the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Learn more about these efforts on Autodesk Redshift, a site that tells stories about the future of making things across architecture, engineering, infrastructure, construction and manufacturing.

12 January 2021


425- Mini-Stories: Volume 9

425- Mini-Stories: Volume 9

Each year, 99% Invisible producers select short design stories to talk about with host Roman Mars. Some of these were just too brief to make into full 99pi episodes, but many also reveal aspects of how we find ideas for (and ultimately make) the show. In this collection, we'll talk about everything from movie novelizations to disco costume designs! Mini-Stories volume 9

22 December 2020


Roman Mars on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Roman Mars on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Roman Mars joins Jesse Thorn on Bullseye this week to talk about life before podcasting, and what decades in radio has taught him. Roman has worked in podcasts and radio for decades at this point, but his career didn't start out in audio. He was originally getting a PhD in genetics, pipetting stuff into tubes, recording data and the like. Roman and Jesse also spoke about how the pandemic has affected the design of cities, and which of those changes might be permanent. Get The 99% Invisible City today

18 December 2020


Chapter 5: Housing Finally

Chapter 5: Housing Finally

If homelessness is the problem, housing is the solution. But it’s not always that simple. Kate Cody has been living in her encampment community for a long time. And there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to make the transition inside, even with the golden ticket.  The way homelessness has exploded in California over the last decade, you’d think there was no system in place to address it. But there is one - it just wasn’t designed to help everyone. Katie Mingle’s According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible that asks: what are we doing to get people into housing? If you've enjoyed this series and were moved by the stories you heard, we've compiled a list of Bay Area organizations that you can support.

15 December 2020


Chapter 4: The List

Chapter 4: The List

When Tulicia Lee tried to get help with housing, she was essentially put on a big long list with a bunch of other homeless people. If you live in the U.S., your community probably has a list like this too. Where one ends up on the list can have huge implications, but how one rises to the top of it is a bit of a mystery. In this episode, Katie finally gets to see how it works. The List The way homelessness has exploded in California over the last decade, you’d think there was no system in place to address it. But there is one - it just wasn’t designed to help everyone. According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible that asks: what are we doing to get people into housing?

11 December 2020


Chapter 3: Housing First

Chapter 3: Housing First

In the 1980's, a psychologist named Sam Tsemberis was working with mentally ill homeless people on the streets of New York. Sometimes, when he thought it was necessary to keep someone safe, Sam would have people committed to a psychiatric hospital. But a few months later, he’d notice that person was back on the streets. Sam knew he needed to try something different. What he did changed everything about the way we think about solving homelessness. In this episode, what happens when you ask people what they need. Chapter 3: Housing First The way homelessness has exploded in California over the last decade, you’d think there was no system in place to address it. But there is one - it just wasn’t designed to help everyone. Katie Mingle’s According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible that asks: what are we doing to get people into housing?

8 December 2020


Chapter 2: The Hotline

Chapter 2: The Hotline

Katie Mingle heard a lot about 211 doing this reporting. Not just from Tulicia Lee who called a bunch of times, but from everyone—from homeless people and service providers and advocates. In her mind, it was the 911 of homelessness. Only, more often than not, it seemed like when people called 211, the metaphorical ambulance never came. That was true for Tulicia, and it was true for lots of other people she met. If everyone starts at 211, why is it a dead-end for so many people? What is happening at 211? At the beginning of March, right before everything shut down for the pandemic, Katie spent a day in the 211 call center. The Hotline

4 December 2020


Chapter 1: Tulicia

Chapter 1: Tulicia

When we think about homelessness, we often have a certain image in our mind—people pushing shopping carts, or big sprawling tent encampments. But for the vast majority of homeless people, the experience is less visible. Many people who are unable to afford a place to live end up sleeping on a friend’s floor or inside their car. This is what Tulicia did for years, until finally, she reached out to the system for help. Chapter 1: Tulicia

1 December 2020


According to Need: Prologue

According to Need: Prologue

The way homelessness has exploded in California over the last decade, you’d think there was no system in place to address it. But there is one -- it just wasn’t designed to help everyone. According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible that asks: What are we doing to get people into housing? According to Need

1 December 2020


According to Need coming December 1

According to Need coming December 1

According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible’s Katie Mingle that asks: What are we doing to get people into housing? Coming December 1

29 November 2020


424- The Great Indoors

424- The Great Indoors

Emily Anthes is the author of The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behaviour, Health and Happiness, and she notes that even before the pandemic hit, we humans spent about 90 percent of our time indoors on average -- however we think of ourselves, people are in fact largely an indoor species. Anthes looks at all of the ways our indoor spaces impact our health, and observes that there is so much we don't really know about the places we spend a majority of our lives. The Great Indoors Shop the 99% Invisible Store

25 November 2020


423- Sean Exploder

423- Sean Exploder

As you might know, we have our own composer here at 99pi named Sean Real who works with the producers to score our episodes with original music that she writes and records right here in Oakland. She has created over 300 amazing original songs for 99pi to date! So this week, we are bringing you a tribute to one of our favorite shows Song Exploder, and to our favorite composer, Sean Real. Sean Exploder Plus a preview of Katie Mingle’s new 99pi spin off According to Need (Out December 1). Buy Sean’s first record of 99pi music in the 99% Invisible Store

21 November 2020


422- In The Unlikely Event

422- In The Unlikely Event

If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you’ve been directed to study the safety briefing card in your seatback pocket. Every passenger plane, commercial or private, has to have safety cards on board. Mo Laborde is a reporter who has been collecting safety cards for almost ten years, and one day she started wondering how the modern safety card came about. In The Unlikely Event Buy The 99% Invisible City

18 November 2020


421- You've Got Enron Mail!

421- You've Got Enron Mail!

Enron collapsed nearly 20 years ago, but chances are something you use today was affected by emails sent by 150 of the company's top employees. These emails — about meetings and energy markets but also affairs, divorces, and fraud — have helped create new technologies, fight terrorism, and added to our understanding of how we communicate. You’ve Got Enron Mail! Learn more and subscribe to Brought To You By…

11 November 2020


420- The Lost Cities of Geo

420- The Lost Cities of Geo

Geocities was an online collection of metropolises, each with their own neighborhoods built around shared interests. The city metaphor helped make a whole new group of users understand the world wide web for the first time. At its peak, it was the third most popular destination on the internet, but it quickly fell out of fashion as the web became more commodified and professional. Before it shuttered, a few digital archivists scooped up as much data as possible before all that early internet experimentation could be deleted. The Lost Cities of Geo Buy a signed copy of The 99% Invisible City today

3 November 2020


419- Take a Walk

419- Take a Walk

During publicity interviews for The 99% Invisible City someone asked us, “What is your favorite way to experience the city?” The answer is walking. If you have nothing to do, take a walk. If you are overwhelmed with things to do, take a walk. We’ve been working so hard on the book release and new miniseries we’re launching in December that we’re going to take a walk with our friends at Pop Up Magazine. Pop Up Magazine's team spent weeks interviewing dozens of people about walking, including Jenny Slate, Anna Sale (Death, Sex & Money), Antwan Williams (Ear Hustle), author and radio host Lulu Miller, writer Sam Jay (Saturday Night Live), NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel, Sergeant Julian Torres, and many others. Take a Walk Buy The 99% Invisible City now!

27 October 2020


99pi Presents The Next Billion Users

99pi Presents The Next Billion Users

This bonus episode is sponsored by Google’s Next Billion User Initiative. Every week millions of people come online for the very first time. And everyone – no matter where they live, what language they speak or their level of digital literacy – deserves an internet that was made for them. Google's Next Billion Users initiative conducts research and builds products for everyone, everywhere. Find out more at NextBillionUsers.google

23 October 2020


418- Sign Stealing

418- Sign Stealing

In the early days of baseball, sign-stealing was almost like a game within the game. Teams and players would try all kinds of tricks to get a glimpse of what the catcher was signaling to the pitcher. Even with this long history, when the Houston Astros were recently caught stealing signs during their championship season it became a huge scandal. Sign Stealing The New York Times Bestseller The 99% Invisible City is on sale now! This episode is adapted from The Edge, a six-part series hosted by Ben Reiter.

20 October 2020


417- For the Love of Peat

417- For the Love of Peat

When we think about carbon storage, we tend to think about forests, but peatlands are also incredible carbon sinks. In Europe, peatlands contain five times more carbon than forests. But back in the 80s, most people didn't know this remarkable fact about peat. If anything, bogs were seen as scary places to be avoided and thus we tended to not take care of them. But that’s changing. For the Love of Peat Buy The 99% Invisible City!

13 October 2020


416- Exploring The 99% Invisible City

416- Exploring The 99% Invisible City

We're excited to celebrate the release of The 99% Invisible City book by host Roman Mars and producer Kurt Kohlstedt with a guided audio tour of beautiful downtown Oakland, California. In this episode, we explain how anchor plates help hold up brick walls; why metal fire escapes are mostly found on older buildings; what impact camouflaging defensive designs has on public spaces; who benefits from those spray-painted markings on city streets, and much more. Plus, At the end of the tour, stick around for a behind the scenes look at the book as we answer a series of fan-submitted questions about how it was created, offering a window into the writing, illustration and design processes. Exploring The 99% Invisible City

6 October 2020


415- Goodnight Nobody

415- Goodnight Nobody

The unlikely battle between the creator of the New York Public Library children's reading room and the beloved children’s classic Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Nobody Pre-order The 99% Invisible City

29 September 2020


414- The Address Book

414- The Address Book

An address is something many people take for granted today, but they are in fact a fairly recent invention that has shaped our cities and taken on great political importance. Deirdre Mask is the author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, which looks at all the ways the world has changed since the popularization of street addresses during the Enlightenment. The book examines how addresses impact wealth and poverty, and how they serve as proxies for our most contentious debates. Mask also explores a digital future where we aren't reliant on the numbers on our homes to tell us where we are or where we're going.  The Address Book Order The 99% Invisible City

22 September 2020


413- Highways 101

413- Highways 101

Icons and symbols and signage are all around us, and nowhere more so than on the open road. So for this episode of Ubiquitous Icons: hop in the car with Roman and Kurt for a crash course in roadside signage. We'll learn about the history of the stop sign, the iconic rural mailbox, and the signs that tell you what you'll find at highway exits. This is Highways 101. Highways 101 Pre-order The 99% Invisible City

15 September 2020


412- Where Do We Go From Here?

412- Where Do We Go From Here?

There have been many waves of panic and resistance to new people moving into the public sphere and needing accommodation. And a focus of that panic has often been… public bathrooms. The debate about trans bathroom access became a big national story a little over five years ago after the passage of ordinances in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, and Houston, TX, which attempted to restrict which bathrooms trans people could or couldn’t use. Many transgender, non-binary, and intersex people risk stress and sometimes physical danger when entering bathrooms that are segregated by sex. But a group of people have devised a design solution that may make bathrooms better for everyone. Where Do We Go From Here? Pre-order the The 99% Invisible City

9 September 2020


411- Podcast Episode

411- Podcast Episode

After the 1970s oil crisis, the global economy went into a recession. American unemployment hit 11 percent. And suddenly, middle-class families didn’t have money for name brands like Coke or Kellogg’s. Consumers wanted cheaper food. In response, supermarkets had to figure out how to make their store brands more appealing. One chain in France, called Carrefour, was developing a discount store brand when they had an idea. Instead of using bright colors, or putting their own name on the box, or using slogans or beautiful photos, their products were brandless. They would include just the name of the food, in black text, on a white background. This minimalist design was a brilliant marketing tool. It delivered the message that the food was cheap, and the savings were being passed down to consumers. Then generic branding spread around the world. Podcast Episode Buy The 99% Invisible City

1 September 2020


244- The Revolutionary Post (Repeat)

244- The Revolutionary Post (Repeat)

Winifred Gallagher, author of How the Post Office Created America argues that the post office is not simply an inexpensive way to send a letter. The service was designed to unite a bunch of disparate towns and people under one flag, and in doing so, she believes the post office actually created the United States of America. This is a rebroadcast from October 2017 The Revolutionary Post Buy The 99% Invisible City, our first book!

25 August 2020


410- Policing the Open Road

410- Policing the Open Road

Before the twentieth century, most Americans rarely came into contact with police officers. But with more and more drivers behind the wheel, police departments rapidly expanded their forces and increased officers’ authority to stop citizens who violated traffic laws. The Fourth Amendment—the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures—did not effectively shield individuals from government intrusion while driving. Instead, jurists interpreted the amendment narrowly. In a society dependent on cars, everyone (the law-breaking and law-abiding alike) would be subject to discretionary policing. Sarah Seo's remarkable book Policing the Open Road shows how procedures designed to safeguard us on the road actually undermined the nation’s commitment to equal protection before the law. Policing the Open Road

11 August 2020


409- California Love Scared Straight

409- California Love Scared Straight

Walter Thompson-Hernandez was just eleven years old when he was admitted to L.A.'s infamous Scared Straight program for graffiti related crimes. In this episode, Walter, through a chance encounter, checks-in with his friend who went through the program with him, their anti-tagging arch-nemesis, and how they have turned out after all these years. Part autobiography, part reportage, California Love is a richly sound-designed audio tour that takes us into the homes of communities that are touchstones to Walter’s life. Subscribe on iTunes or through their website

4 August 2020


408- Valley of the Fallen

408- Valley of the Fallen

About an hour northwest of Madrid, an enormous stone crucifix rises 500 feet out of a rocky mountaintop. It’s so big you can see it from miles away. Beneath the cross, there’s a sprawling Benedictine monastery and a basilica carved out of the mountain. This place is called The Valley of the Fallen. And it’s likely the most controversial monument in Spain. The Valley is synonymous with Francisco Franco, the general who ruled Spain from the end of its bloody civil war in 1939 until his death in 1975. When Franco died, he became the Valley’s most notorious inhabitant, until he was removed in 2019. Currently there are tens of thousands of other bodies still trapped in the basilica beneath where Franco used to lie. Many were victims of Franco’s security forces, murdered during the height of the civil war, and for years, their families have been trying to get them out. Valley of the Fallen Buy The 99% Invisible City, our first book!

29 July 2020


407- The Dolphin that Roared

407- The Dolphin that Roared

When Emily Oberman found a flag of the island nation of Anguilla her father had helped design in her attic, she had no idea it was connected to one of the strangest political revolutions in history. The Dolphin that Roared Plus, we are so excited to announce the first 99pi book! The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt comes out October 6 and you should pre-order it right now!

21 July 2020


406- A Side of Franchise

406- A Side of Franchise

There are many books about McDonald’s that criticize the company for its many sins, and author Marcia Chatelain has read all of them. But her book comes at this famous fast-food restaurant from a different angle and with a much wider lens. In Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, Chatelain offers a critique of racial capitalism and a long history of trying to address social problems with business-based solutions. A Side of Franchise Plus, we are featuring an excerpt from the series Race Traitor from The Heart. Subscribe!

14 July 2020


405- Freedom House Ambulance Service

405- Freedom House Ambulance Service

One night halfway through a graveyard shift at the hospital, orderly John Moon watched as two young men burst through the doors. They were working desperately to save a dying patient. Maybe today he wouldn’t bat an eye at this scene, but in 1970 nothing about it made sense. The two men weren’t doctors, and they weren’t nurses. And their strange uniforms weren’t hospital issued. Moon was witnessing the birth of a new profession—one that would go on to change the face of emergency medicine.  The two men were some of the worlds first paramedics, and, like Moon, they were Black. This is the story of Freedom House Ambulance Service of Pittsburgh. They were the first paramedics and they changed the way we think about emergency medicine. Freedom House Ambulance Service

8 July 2020


404- Return of Oñate's Foot

404- Return of Oñate's Foot

All across the country, protestors have been tearing down old monuments. These monuments have been falling in the middle of historic protests against police brutality. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, these demonstrations have spread to communities, big and small, across the country and around the world. And as they've grown, the protests have become about much more than police violence. This national uprising has inspired a massive reckoning with our country's past. Suddenly, decades of inertia and foot-dragging have given way to decisive action. In 2018, we did a story about a couple of controversial monuments in New Mexico. They honored a Spanish conquistador named Juan de Oñate, who was an early settler in the region. We're revisiting that story with extensive updates about the current protests and a shooting that occurred at an Oñate demonstration in June. Return of Oñate's Foot

30 June 2020


403- Return of the Yokai

403- Return of the Yokai

In the US, mascots are used to pump up crowds at sporting events, or for traumatizing generations of children at Chuck E. Cheese, but in Japan it’s different. There are mascots for towns, aquariums, dentists' offices, even prisons. There are mascots in cities that tell people not to litter, or remind them to be quiet on the train. Everything has a mascot and anything can be a mascot. The reason why mascots and character culture flourish in Japan is connected with the nation’s fascinating history with mythical monsters known as Yokai. Return of the Yokai

24 June 2020


402- Instant Gramification

402- Instant Gramification

If you’re on Instagram, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen a picture of one particular building called the Yardhouse. It was designed by the London-based architecture collective Assemble. The design of the building had a lot to say about creating spaces that were functional, collaborative, and inexpensive. But people on Instagram mainly saw a pretty wall to serve as the backdrop to their photos. Instagram and architecture have formed a symbiosis and the consequences of them interacting and feeding back on each other are still playing out. Instant Grammification

16 June 2020


Wedding Dresses: Articles of Interest #12

Wedding Dresses: Articles of Interest #12

A wedding was once seen as a start of young adulthood. Now, a wedding has come to represent a crowning achievement -- a symbol that your whole life is together and you have accrued the time and space and resources to afford your ascent to another level of fulfillment. And there's no greater symbol for this day, and all the pressure it brings, than a white dress. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

9 June 2020


Diamonds: Articles of Interest #11

Diamonds: Articles of Interest #11

Diamonds represent value, in all its multiple meanings: values, as in ethics, and value as in actual price. But what are these rocks actually worth? The ethics and costs of diamond rings have shifted with society, from their artificial scarcity perpetuated by DeBeers to their artificial creation in labs. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

29 May 2020


Suits: Articles of Interest #10

Suits: Articles of Interest #10

Menswear can seem boring. If you look at any award show, most of the men are dressed in black pants and black jackets. This uniform design can be traced back to American Revolution, classical statuary, and one particular bloke bopping around downtown London way back in the 1770s. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

26 May 2020


Perfume: Articles of Interest #9

Perfume: Articles of Interest #9

The world of high end perfume is surprisingly lucrative, considering that scent is often the most ignored of our senses. But one can't judge a scent solely by the brand and shape of the bottle. With the right amount of attention, perfume can be a key to a whole olfactory world. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

19 May 2020


Knockoffs: Articles of Interest #8

Knockoffs: Articles of Interest #8

Brands hold immense sway over both consumers and the American legal system. Few know this as well as Dapper Dan, who went from street hustler to fashion impresario and has spent time on both sides of American trademark law. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

15 May 2020


A Fantasy of Fashion: Articles of Interest #7

A Fantasy of Fashion: Articles of Interest #7

In the wake of World War II, the government of France commissioned its most prominent designers to create a collection of miniature fashion dolls. It might seem like an odd thing to fund, but the fantasy of high fashion inspired hope in postwar Paris. These dolls also forever changed the curator who discovered them almost 40 years later, in a strange museum perched on a cliff in rural Washington state. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

12 May 2020


401- The Natural Experiment

401- The Natural Experiment

In general, the coronavirus shutdowns have been terrible for academic research. Trips have been canceled, labs have shut down, and long-running experiments have been interrupted. But there are some researchers for whom the shutdowns have provided a unique opportunity—a whole new data set, a chance to gather new information, or to look at information in a new way. And so, this week, we’re bringing you stories very different academic fields, about researchers who are using this bizarre, tragic moment to learn something new about the world. The Natural Experiment

6 May 2020


400- The Smell of Concrete After Rain

400- The Smell of Concrete After Rain

There have been over 200,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. All have been tragic, but there are two people in particular we’ve lost due to COVID that were part of the world of architecture and design that we want to honor with a couple of stories today. First, we are mourning the loss of architect Michael McKinnell. Along with Gerhard Kallman, McKinnell designed the unforgettable Boston City Hall, completed in 1968. They won the commission for Boston City Hall after submitting their brutalist, heroic monument in a contest when Michael McKinnell was just 26 years old. It was always a controversial structure, much of the public found it ugly and too unconventional, but architects and critics tend to love it. This is the often the case with Brutalism in general and that is the subject of our first story starring Boston City Hall. Another voice who is gone too early was Michael Sorkin. Sorkin was a designer and the Village Voice architecture critic in the 80s. He brought a totally new kind of approach to writing about buildings, one that focused on people and politics. We spoke with design critic at Curbed, Alexandra Lange, about Sorkin's work, and Roman Mars reads excerpts from one of his pieces called Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know. The Smell of Concrete After Rain

29 April 2020


399- Masking for a Friend

399- Masking for a Friend

Here in the US, we're not used to needing to cover half of our faces in public, but if you look at the other side of the world, it's a different story. In parts of Asia, wearing a mask in response to the coronavirus pandemic was a totally easy and normal adjustment. Rebecca Kanthor is a reporter based in Shanghai who has lived in China for the past 17 years, and she tells us why the culture behind masks developed so differently there, and the doctor who started it all. Plus, we look at the manufacturers who pivoted to make products that are in short supply because of the pandemic. Masking for a Friend We have a book coming out!!! Check out The 99% Invisible City here.

21 April 2020


398- Unsheltered in Place

398- Unsheltered in Place

99% Invisible producer Katie Mingle had already been working on a series about unhoused people in the Bay Area for over a year when the current pandemic began to unfold. Suddenly, this vulnerable demographic was cast into the spotlight due to the virulent spread of COVID-19. It is clear from the data that this virus is hitting black and poor communities the hardest. COVID-19 has made American society’s racial and wealth inequities even more obvious. The disease is most dangerous to older and immunocompromised people, two groups to which those experiencing homelessness disproportionately belong. Plus, hotels have long been used as crucial infrastructure during disasters. Now they’re being used to help fight the pandemic. Unsheltered in Place

14 April 2020


397- Wipe Out

397- Wipe Out

If you have tried to buy toilet paper in the last few weeks, you might have found yourself staring at an empty aisle in the grocery store, wondering where all the toilet paper has gone. Although it may seem like a product that we've always been reliant upon, toilet paper has not actually been around very long, and may not be as essential as we think it is. Instead, it's the product of very good marketing. Plus, we talk about the bane of wastewater utilities everywhere: flushable wipes. Wipe Out

7 April 2020


396- This Day in Esoteric Political History

396- This Day in Esoteric Political History

In times like these, we could all use a little historical perspective. In this new podcast from Radiotopia, Jody Avirgan, political historian Nicole Hemmer, and special guests rescue moments from U.S. history to map our journey through a tumultuous year. On this episode of 99% Invisible, Jody talks with Roman about his new show and we play two short episodes of This Day in Esoteric Political History. Subscribe to This Day in Esoteric Political History on Apple Podcasts

31 March 2020


395- This is Chance! Redux

395- This is Chance! Redux

It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had hit Anchorage, Alaska. Some houses had been turned completely upside down while others had skidded into the sea. But that brief and catastrophic quake was just the beginning of the story. This is the story of one woman who held a community together. This is Chance! Redux Buy Jon Mooallem’s This is Chance!

25 March 2020


394- Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are

394- Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are

On this shelter-in-place edition of 99pi, Roman walks around his house and tells stories about the history and design of various objects Buy Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are and all Beauty Pill records on Bandcamp or wherever you can find it. Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are

17 March 2020


393- Map Quests: Political, Physical and Digital

393- Map Quests: Political, Physical and Digital

The only truly accurate map of the world would be a map the size of the world. So if you want a map to be useful, something you can hold in your hands, you have to start making choices. We have to choose what information we're interested in, and what we're throwing out. Those choices influence how the person reading the map views the world. But a map’s influence doesn’t end there, maps can actually *shape *the place they’re trying to represent and that’s where things get weird. Map Quests

11 March 2020


392- The Weather Machine

392- The Weather Machine

The weather can be a simple word or loaded with meaning depending on the context -- a humdrum subject of everyday small talk or a stark climactic reality full of existential associations with serious disasters. In his book The Weather Machine, author Andrew Blum discusses these extremes and much in between, taking readers back in time to early weather-predicting aspirations and forward with speculation about the future of forecasting, including potentially dark clouds on the horizon. The Weather Machine

3 March 2020


391- Over the Road

391- Over the Road

At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, drivers from all over the country converge each year to show off their chrome and exchange stories, tips and gripes. One thing unites most in attendance this year: concerns about the steady march of technology, especially the recently imposed, mandatory electronic logging device, or ELD, which records every detail of a driver’s working hours. Over the Road is an eight-part series that gives voice to the trials and triumphs of America’s long haul truckers. Host “Long Haul Paul” Marhoefer, a musician, storyteller and trucker for nearly 40 years, takes you behind the wheel to explore a devoted community and a world that’s changing amidst new technologies and regulations. Listen to more episodes at OvertheRoad.fm.

26 February 2020


390- Fraktur

390- Fraktur

If you have ever caught even one minute of the history channel, you have seen fraktur. You’ve seen the font on Nazi posters, on Nazi office buildings, on Nazi roadwork signs. Today in Germany, blackletter typefaces are frequently used by Neo-Nazi groups and for many Germans, they bring to mind the dark times of the country’s fascist past. This is ironic because fraktur has a long and strange history that includes the font actually being banned by the Nazis. Plus, we get an opinion from Kate Wagner (McMansion Hell) about “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” Fraktur

19 February 2020


389- Whomst Among Us Has Let The Dogs Out

389- Whomst Among Us Has Let The Dogs Out

The story of how “Who Let The Dogs Out” ended up stuck in all of our brains goes back decades and spans continents. It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. About ten years ago, Ben Sisto was reading the Wikipedia entry for the song when he noticed something strange. A hairdresser in England named “Keith” was credited with giving the song to the Baha Men, but Keith had no last name and the fact had no citation. This mystery sent Ben down a rabbit hole to uncover the true story. Whomst Among Us Has Let The Dogs Out

12 February 2020


388- Missing the Bus

388- Missing the Bus

If you heard that there was a piece of technology that could do away with traffic jams, make cities more equitable, and help us solve climate change, you might think about driverless cars, or hyperloops or any of the other new transportation technologies that get lots of hype these days. But there is a much older, much less sexy piece of machinery that could be the key to making our cities more sustainable, more liveable, and more fair: the humble bus. Steve Higashide is a transit expert, bus champion, and author of a new book called Better Busses Better Cities. And the central thesis of the book is that buses have the power to remake our cities for the better. Missing the Bus

5 February 2020


387- The Worst Video Game Ever

387- The Worst Video Game Ever

Deep within the National Museum of American History’s vaults is a battered Atari case containing what’s known as “the worst video game of all time.” The game is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it was so bad that not even the might of Steven Spielberg could save it. It was so loathsome that all remaining copies were buried deep in the desert. And it was so horrible that it’s blamed for the collapse of the American home video game industry in the early 1980s. Subscribe to Sidedoor on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic The Worst Video Game Ever

28 January 2020


386- Their Dark Materials

386- Their Dark Materials

Vantablack is a pigment that reaches a level of darkness that’s so intense, it’s kind of upsetting. It’s so black it’s like looking at a hole cut out of the universe. If it looks unreal because Vantablack isn’t actually a color, it’s a form of nanotechnology. It was created by the tech industry for the tech industry, but this strange dark material would also go on to turn the art world on its head. Their Dark Materials

22 January 2020


385- Shade

385- Shade

Journalist Sam Bloch used to live in Los Angeles. And while lots of people move to LA for the sun and the hot temperatures, Bloch noticed a real dark side to this idyllic weather: in many neighborhoods of the city, there's almost no shade. Shade can literally be a matter of life and death. Los Angeles, like most cities around the world, is heating up. And in dry, arid environments like LA, shade is perhaps the most important factor influencing human comfort. Without shade, the chance of mortality, illness, and heatstroke can go way up. Shade

15 January 2020


384- Mini-Stories: Volume 8

384- Mini-Stories: Volume 8

This is part 2 of the 2019- 2020 mini-stories episodes where I interview the staff about their favorite little stories from the built world that don’t quite fill out an entire episode for whatever reason but they are cool 99pi stories nonetheless… We have centuries old bonds, standard tunings mandated by international treaty, abandoned mansions, and secret babies. If you ever need a conversation starter, the mini-stories are our gift to you. Mini-Stories 8

7 January 2020


383- Mini-Stories: Volume 7

383- Mini-Stories: Volume 7

It’s the end of the year and time for our annual mini-stories episodes. Mini-stories are fun, quick hit stories that came up in our research for another episode...or maybe it was some cool thing someone told us about that we found really interesting. They didn’t quite warrant a full episode and two months of hard reporting, but they’re great 99pi stories nonetheless. And my favorite part is we do them as unscripted interviews where I’m in the studio with the people who work on this show, who I like a lot. Sometimes I know a little about what they’re going to talk about, but sometimes I know nothing. It’s very fun. This week we have stories of mistaken identity, unreachable iconic tour destinations, haunted architecture, and of course, raccoons. Mini-Stories: Volume 7 Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today.

19 December 2019


Smart Stuff with Justin and Roman- Founder Effect

Smart Stuff with Justin and Roman- Founder Effect

The long-awaited return of Smart Stuff with Justin and Roman, featuring Justin McElroy and Roman Mars. Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today. Everyone should listen to My Brother, My Brother, and Me on the Max Fun Network.

15 December 2019


382- The ELIZA Effect

382- The ELIZA Effect

Throughout Joseph Weizenbaum's life, he liked to tell this story about a computer program he’d created back in the 1960s as a professor at MIT. It was a simple chatbot named ELIZA that could interact with users in a typed conversation. As he enlisted people to try it out, Weizenbaum saw similar reactions again and again -- people were entranced by the program. They would reveal very intimate details about their lives. It was as if they’d just been waiting for someone (or something) to ask. ELIZA was one of the first computer programs that could convincingly simulate human conversation, which Weizenbaum found frankly a bit disturbing. The ELIZA Effect Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today.

11 December 2019


381- The Infantorium

381- The Infantorium

“Incubators for premature babies were, oddly enough, a phenomenon at the turn of the 20th century that was available at state and county fairs and amusement parks rather than hospitals,” explains Lauren Rabinowitz, an amusement park historian. If you wanted your at-risk premature baby to survive, you pretty much had to bring them to an amusement park. These incubator shows cropped up all over America. And they were a main source of healthcare for premature babies for over forty years. The Infantorium Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today.

3 December 2019


380- Mannequin Pixie Dream Girl

380- Mannequin Pixie Dream Girl

In the 1930s, Lester Gaba was designing department store windows and found the old wax mannequins uninspiring. So he designed a new kind of mannequin that was sleek, simple, but conveyed style and personality. As a marketing stunt, he took one of these mannequins everywhere with him and she became a national obsession. “Cynthia” captivated millions and was the subject of a 14-page spread in Life Magazine. Cynthia and the other Gaba Girls changed the look and feel of retail stores. Mannequin Pixie Dream Girl Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today.

27 November 2019


379- Cautionary Tales

379- Cautionary Tales

Galileo tried to teach us that adding more and more layers to a system intended to avert disaster often makes catastrophe all the more likely. His basic lesson has been ignored in nuclear power plants, financial markets and at the Oscars... all resulting in chaos. At the 2017 Academy Awards, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway famously handed the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong movie. In this episode of Cautionary Tales, Tim Harford takes us through all of the poor design choices leading into the infamous La La Land/Moonlight debacle, and how it could have been prevented. Cautionary Tales Subscribe to Cautionary Tales on Apple Podcasts

19 November 2019


378- Ubiquitous Icons: Peace, Power, and Happiness

378- Ubiquitous Icons: Peace, Power, and Happiness

There are symbols all around us that we take for granted, like the lightning strike icon, which indicates that something is high voltage. Or a little campfire to indicate that something is flammable. Those icons are pretty obvious, but there are others that aren't so straightforward. Like, why do a triangle and a stick in a circle indicate "peace"? Where does the smiley face actually come from? Or the power symbol? We sent out the 99PI team to dig into the backstory behind some of those images you see every day. Ubiquitous Icons: Peace, Power, and Happiness

13 November 2019


377- How To Pick A Pepper

377- How To Pick A Pepper

The chili pepper is the pride of New Mexico, but they have a problem with their beloved crop. There just aren’t enough workers to pick the peppers. Picking chili peppers can be especially grueling work even compared to other crops. So most workers are skipping chili harvests in favor of other sources of income.  As a result, small family farms have been planting less and less chili every year in favor of other less-labor intensive crops. So, scientists are trying to find ways to automate the harvest, but picking chilis turned out to be a tough job for a robot. How To Pick A Pepper Rose Eveleth’s podcast is called Flash Forward. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic.

5 November 2019


376- Great Bitter Lake Association

376- Great Bitter Lake Association

A little-known bit of world history about a rag tag group of sailors stranded for years in the Suez Canal at the center of a war. Great Bitter Lake Association

30 October 2019


375- Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece

375- Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece

To help celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum teamed up with 99% Invisible to offer visitors a guided audio experience of the museum. Even if you've never been to the Guggenheim Museum, you probably recognize it. From the outside, the building is a light gray spiral, and from the inside, the art is displayed on one long ramp that curves up towards a glass skylight in the ceiling. We’re going to take the greatness of this building as a given. What we’re going to focus on are the oddities, the accretions, the interventions that reveal a different kind of genius. Not just the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright, and his bold, original vision, but the genius of all the people that made this building function, adapt, and grow over the decades. Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece

23 October 2019


374- Unsure Footing

374- Unsure Footing

Before 1992, the easiest way to run the time off the clock in a soccer game was just to pass the ball to the goalkeeper, who could pick the ball up, and hold it for a few seconds before throwing it back into play. This was considered by some to be unsportsmanlike and bad for spectators. So in 1992, the International Football Association Board, the committee in charge of determining the rules of soccer, made a minor change to the laws of the game. From that season forward, in every league throughout the world, when a player passed the ball back to the goalkeeper, the goalkeeper could no longer use their hands. The backpass law didn’t seem like a huge change at the time, but it fundamentally changed soccer. Unsure Footing

15 October 2019


373- The Kirkbride Plan

373- The Kirkbride Plan

Today, there are more than a hundred abandoned asylums in the United States that, to many people, probably seem scary and imposing, but not so long ago they weren't seen as scary at all. Many of them were built part of a treatment regimen developed by a singular Philadelphia doctor named Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride was obsessed with architecture and how it could be harnessed therapeutically to cure people suffering from mental illness. The Kirkbride Plan

8 October 2019


372- The Help-Yourself City

372- The Help-Yourself City

There’s an idea in city planning called “informal urbanism.”  Some people call it “do-it-yourself urbanism.”  Informal urbanism covers all the ways people try to change their community that isn’t through city planning or some kind of official process. If you’ve put up a homemade sign warning people not to sit on a broken bench, that’s DIY urbanism. If you’ve used cones or a chair to reserve your own parking spot on a public street, that’s also DIY urbanism. Gordon Douglas has written a whole book about this idea called “The Help Yourself City.” It looks at all the ways people are taking matters into their own hands. Both for good reasons and for incredibly selfish ones. The Help-Yourself City

1 October 2019


99% Invisible presents What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

99% Invisible presents What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

Donald Trump took office 977 days ago, and it has been exhausting. Independent of where you are politically, I think we can all agree that the news cycle coming out of Washington DC has been very intense for anyone who has been paying attention at all. One of the reasons for the fervor is Trump’s role as a very norm breaking president. If you like him, that’s why you like him, if you hate him, that’s why you hate him. But my reaction to all this, was that I realized I didn’t really know what all the norms and rules are, so I wanted to create for myself a Constitutional Law class and the syllabus would be determined by Trump’s tweets. This is where my friend, neighbor and brains behind this operation, Elizabeth Joh, comes in. She is a professor at the UC  Davis school of law and she teaches Con Law. And since June of 2017, she has been kind enough to hang out with me and teach me lessons about the US Constitution, that I then record and release as the podcast What Trump Can Teach us About Con Law. We call it Trump Con Law for short. After a long hiatus, we’re back with monthly episodes, so I wanted to reintroduce it to the 99pi audience because you may not know about it and because people often comment that the nature of the calm historically grounded, educational discussion is a soothing salve amidst the chaotic and unnerving political news of the day. We’re presenting two classic episodes on Impeachment and Prosecuting a President. Subscribe to What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic

24 September 2019


371- Dead Cars

371- Dead Cars

Everything in Bethel, Alaska comes in by cargo plane or barge, and even when something stops working, it’s often too expensive and too inconvenient to get it out again. So junk accumulates. Diane McEachern has been a resident of Bethel for about 20 years, and she’s made it her personal mission to count every single dead car in the city. Dead cars are the most visible manifestation of the town’s junk problem. You see them everywhere -- broken down, abandoned, left to rust and rot out in the elements. Dead Cars Plus, a preview of Radiotopia’s newest series Passenger List. Subscribe!

18 September 2019


370- The Pool and the Stream Redux

370- The Pool and the Stream Redux

This is the newly updated story of a curvy, kidney-shaped swimming pool born in Northern Europe that had a huge ripple effect on popular culture in Southern California and landscape architecture in Northern California, and then the world. A documentary in three parts with a brand new update about how this episode resulted in a brand new skate park in a very special city. The Pool and the Stream Redux

10 September 2019


369- Wait Wait...Tell Me!

369- Wait Wait...Tell Me!

Waiting is something that we all do every day, but our experience of waiting, varies radically depending on the context. And it turns out that design can completely change whether a five minute wait feels reasonable or completely unbearable. Transparency is key. Wait Wait...Tell Me!

4 September 2019


368- All Rings Considered

368- All Rings Considered

Before we turned our phones to silent or vibrate, there was a time when everyone had ringtones -- when the song your phone played really said something about you. These simple, 15 second melodies were disposable, yet highly personal trinkets. They started with monophonic bleeps and bloops and eventually became actual clips of real songs. And it was all thanks to a man named Vesku-Matti Paananen. All Rings Considered

28 August 2019


367- Peace Lines

367- Peace Lines

There are many walls in Belfast which physically separate Protestant neighborhoods from Catholic ones. Some are fences that you can see through, while others are made of bricks and steel. Many have clearly been reinforced over time: a cinderblock wall topped with corrugated iron, then topped with razor wire, stretching up towards the sky. Many of the walls in Northern Ireland went up in the 1970s and ‘80s at the height of what’s become known as “The Troubles.” Decades later, almost all of the walls remain standing. They cut across communities like monuments to the conflict, etched into the physical landscape. Taking them down isn’t going to be easy. Peace Lines

21 August 2019


366- Model City

366- Model City

During the depths of the Depression in the late 1930s, 300 craftspeople came together for two years to build an enormous scale model of the City of San Francisco. This Works Progress Administration (WPA) project was conceived as a way of putting artists to work while also creating a planning tool for the city to imagine its future. The massive work was meant to remain on public view for all to see, but World War II broke out and the 6,000 piece, hand-carved and painted wooden model was put into storage for almost 80 years. Model City This episode was produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson with Nathan Dalton and Brandi Howell. Mixed by Jim McKee Subscribe to Kitchen Sisters Present

13 August 2019


365- On Beeing

365- On Beeing

Farmers have known for centuries that putting a hive of honeybees in an orchard results in more blossoms becoming cherries, almonds, apples and the like.  Yet it’s only in the last 30 years that pollination services have become such an enormous part of American agriculture. Today, bees have become more livestock than wild creatures, little winged cows, that depend on humans for food and shelter. On Beeing

6 August 2019


364- He's Still Neutral

364- He's Still Neutral

When confronted with trash piling up on a median in front of their home in Oakland, Dan and Lu Stevenson decided to try something unusual: they would install a statue of the Buddha to watch over the place. When asked by Criminal’s Phoebe Judge why they chose this particular religious figure, Dan explained simply: “He’s neutral.” He’s Still Neutral Subscribe to Criminal on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic

31 July 2019


363- Invisible Women

363- Invisible Women

Men are often the default subjects of design, which can have a huge impact on big and critical aspects of everyday life. Caroline Criado Perez is the author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a book about how data from women is ignored and how this bakes in bias and discrimination in the things we design. Invisible Women

23 July 2019


362- Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine

362- Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine

Vivian Le is on a mission that requires equal parts science, philosophy, and daring, in search of something that’s been hotly contested for decades: the world's largest ball of twine. Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine

17 July 2019


361- Built on Sand

361- Built on Sand

Sand is so tiny and ubiquitous that it's easy to take for granted. But in his book The World in a Grain, author Vince Beiser traces the history of sand, exploring how it fundamentally shaped the world as we know it. "Sand is actually the most important solid substance on Earth," he argues. "It's the literal foundation of modern civilization." Plus, Roman talks with Kate Simonen of the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington about measuring the embodied carbon in building materials. Built on Sand

9 July 2019


360- The Universal Page

360- The Universal Page

Reporter Andrew Leland has always loved to read. An early love of books in childhood eventually led to a job in publishing with McSweeney’s where Andrew edited essays and interviews, laid out articles, and was trained to take as much care with the look and feel of the words as he did with the expression of the ideas in the text. But as much as Andrew loves print, he has a condition that will eventually change his relationship to it pretty radically. He’s going blind. And this fact has made him deeply curious about how blind people experience literature and the long history of designing a tactile language that sometimes suffered from trying to be too universal. The Universal Page

2 July 2019


359- Life and Death in Singapore

359- Life and Death in Singapore

When Singapore gained its independence they went on a mission to re-house the population from densely-packed thatched roof huts into giant concrete skyscrapers. In 1960, they formed the Housing and Development Board, or HDB, and just five years later they had already housed 400,000 people! In Singapore, where land is scarce, it’s not unlikely for apartment buildings to be built on top of land that was graveyards not too long ago. But building on top of a graveyard has its complications. Life and Death in Singapore

25 June 2019


358- The Anthropocene Reviewed

358- The Anthropocene Reviewed

The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. On The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green rates different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale. This week 99% Invisible is featuring two episodes of The Anthropocene Reviewed in which John Green dissects: pennies, the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain, a 17,000-year-old cave painting, and the Taco Bell breakfast menu. Plus, Roman talks with John about the show, sports, and all the things we love now, but hated as teenagers. The Anthropocene Reviewed Subscribe to The Anthropocene Reviewed on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic

18 June 2019


357- The Barney Design redux

357- The Barney Design redux

All over Oakland right now people are wearing Warriors shirts and flying their Warriors flags from their cars, and as much as we like our hometown team here at 99pi, we've been following these NBA finals for another design-related reason. When you watch the games in Toronto the whole stadium is filled with people wearing red raptors jerseys, but every now and then you'll see these little flashes of purple. Those bold fans are wearing one of the most polarizing jerseys in the history of sports. A jersey that we actually did a whole episode about last year. So in honor of the Toronto Raptors, and the beautifully ugly jersey they gave the world, we're gonna rerun that episode for you today, along with an update from our new 99pi team member Chris Berube, a Torontonian and Raptors fan since he was a kid. The Barney Design Redux

11 June 2019


356- The Automat

356- The Automat

The inside of a Horn & Hardart Automat looked like a glamorous, ornate cafeteria -- but instead of a human handing you hot food over a counter, you would push your tray up to a wall of little glass cubbies. Each cubby housed a fresh, hot portion of food on a small plate. It could be anything from a side of peas to a turkey sandwich, to a slice of pie. You simply put in some nickels, and then the door to that cubby would unlock and you could take the plate that was inside. This automated food experience has reemerged in new restaurants today. The Automat Plus, we revisit the story of when food advertising was revolutionized by motion.

4 June 2019


355- Depave Paradise

355- Depave Paradise

Mexico City is in a water crisis. Despite rains and floods, it is running out of drinking water. To solve the scarcity issue, the city began piping water in from far away as well as from aquifer below ground, creating yet another problem: the city began to sink as the moisture was sucked up and out from below. Meanwhile, rainwater which should be replenishing the ground can’t penetrate it thanks to impermeable paved surfaces above. Uneven ground and crooked buildings reflect this subterranean crisis on the surface, misshaping the city’s infrastructure and architecture. Depave Paradise

28 May 2019


Sound and Health: Hospitals

Sound and Health: Hospitals

Sound can have serious impacts on our health and wellbeing. And there’s no better place to think about health than hospitals. According to Joel Beckerman, sound designer and composer at Man Made Music: "Hospitals are horrible places to get better." Hospitals can be bad for your health because hospitals sound terrible. But sound designers and health care workers are looking to change that. This is part two in a two-part series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about how sound can be designed to reduce harm and even improve wellbeing. Sound and Health: Hospitals Learn more about Sonic Humanism

24 May 2019


281- La Sagrada Familia (Repeat)

281- La Sagrada Familia (Repeat)

There are a lot of Gothic churches in Spain, but this one is different. It doesn’t look like a Gothic cathedral. It looks organic, like it was built out of bones or sand. But there’s another thing that sets it apart from your average old Gothic cathedral: it isn’t actually old. Gaudí wasn’t able to build very much of his famous church before he died in 1926. Most of it has been built in the last 40 years, and it still isn’t finished. Which means that architects have had to figure out, and still are figuring out, how Gaudí wanted the church to be built La Sagrada Familia This episode was originally broadcast in October 2017

21 May 2019


Sound and Health: Cities

Sound and Health: Cities

Is our blaring modern soundscape harming our health? Cities are noisy places and while people are pretty good at tuning it out on a day-to-day basis our sonic environments have serious, long-term impacts on our mental and physical health. This is part one in a two-part series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about how sound can be designed to reduce harm and even improve wellbeing. Sound and Health: Cities Learn more about Sonic Humanism

17 May 2019


354- Weeding is Fundamental

354- Weeding is Fundamental

Libraries get rid of books all the time. There are so many new books coming in every day and only a finite amount of library space. The practice of freeing up library space is called weeding. When the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library was damaged by an earthquake 1989, the argument over which books need to be weeded, and how they were chosen for removal, reached fever pitch. Weeding is Fundamental This episode also features “The Pack Horse Librarians Of Eastern Kentucky” produced by the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. Subscribe the The Kitchen Sisters Present on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic

14 May 2019


353- From Bombay with Love

353- From Bombay with Love

From the 1950s right up to its collapse, people in the Soviet Union were completely infatuated with Indian cinema. India and The Soviet Union had completely different politics, languages, and cultures. But for a brief time, these two nations found they had much more in common than expected, and realized this through a love of movies. From Bombay with Love

7 May 2019


352- Uptown Squirrel

352- Uptown Squirrel

This past fall, two hundred people gathered at The Explorer’s Club in New York City. The building was once a clubhouse for famed naturalists and explorers. Now it’s an archive of ephemera and rarities from pioneering expeditions around the globe. But this latest gathering was held to celebrate the first biological census of its kind –an effort to count all of the squirrels in New York City’s Central Park. Squirrels were purposefully introduced into our cities in the 1800s, and when their population exploded, we lost track of how many there are. Uptown Squirrel

1 May 2019


351- Play Mountain

351- Play Mountain

Even if you don't recognize a Noguchi table by name, you've definitely seen one. In movies or tv shows when they want to show that a lawyer or art dealer is really sophisticated, they put a Noguchi table in their waiting room. Noguchi was a world renowned sculptor and he had huge ambitions. His largest and most personal concept was a giant public sculpture that took the form of a massive pyramid. Try to Imagine a cross between a Mayan temple and a mountain. It pushes out of the earth with a long slide sloping down with steps on two of its faces. Noguchi thought of it as a playground, and he called it Play Mountain. Noguchi’s ideas - about imagination, and freedom to play - have left a deep mark on playground designers, and are continuing to shape the playgrounds all around us. Play Mountain

24 April 2019


350- The Roman Mars Mazda Virus

350- The Roman Mars Mazda Virus

Gimlet’s Reply All orchestrated a grand podcast crossover event to try to solve a years old bug plaguing 99% Invisible listeners that drive certain models of Mazda. You can find all the fake podcast episodes and feeds on the Reply All website. Reply All is a fantastic show! If you don’t know it, you'll love it. Start listening now. Find the link to the Mazda-safe podcast feed here: The Roman Mars Mazda Virus

16 April 2019


349- Froebel's Gifts

349- Froebel's Gifts

In the late 1700s, a young man named Freidrich Froebel was on track to become an architect when a friend convinced him to pursue a path toward education instead. And in changing course, Froebel arguably ended up having more influence on the world of architecture and design than any single architect -- all because Friedrich Froebel created kindergarten. If you’ve ever looked at a piece of abstract art or Modernist architecture and thought “my kindergartener could have made that," well, that may be more true than you realize. Froebel’s Gifts

9 April 2019


348- Three Things That Made the Modern Economy

348- Three Things That Made the Modern Economy

50 Things That Made The Modern Economy is a podcast that explores the fascinating histories of a number of powerful inventions and their far-reaching consequences. This week, 99% Invisible is featuring three episodes that explain how the s-bend pipe revolutionized indoor plumbing, how high-tech ‘death ray’ led to the invention of radar, and the impact of bricks. Subscribe to *50 Things That Made The Modern Economy *on iTunes and RadioPublic

2 April 2019


347- The Many Deaths of a Painting

347- The Many Deaths of a Painting

When Barnett Newman’s painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III was placed in the Stedelijk museum it was meant to be provocative, but one reaction that it received was so intense, so violent, it set off a chain of events that shook the art world to its core. The Many Deaths of a Painting

27 March 2019


346- Palaces for the People

346- Palaces for the People

Social Infrastructure is the glue that binds communities together, and it is just as real as the infrastructure for water, power, or communications, although it's often harder to see. But Eric Klinenberg says that when we invest in social infrastructures such as libraries, parks, or schools, we reap all kinds of benefits. We become more likely to interact with people around us, and connected to the broader public. If we neglect social infrastructure, we tend to grow more isolated, which can have serious consequences. Palaces for the People Articles of Interest, Avery Trufelman’s acclaimed podcast mini-series about what we wear, now has its own feed. Subscribe to AOI on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic. Please leave a review and spread the word. Thanks!

19 March 2019


345- Classic Cartoon Sound Effects!

345- Classic Cartoon Sound Effects!

Cartoon sound effects are some of the most iconic sounds ever made. Even modern cartoons continue to use the same sound effects from decades ago. How were these legendary sounds made and how have they stood the test of time? This story originally appeared on Twenty Thousand Hertz Subscribe to Twenty Thousand Hertz in Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, or wherever you listen.

12 March 2019


344- The Known Unknown

344- The Known Unknown

The tradition of the Tomb of the Unknowns goes back only about a century, but it has become one of the most solemn and reverential monuments. When President Reagan added the remains of an unknown serviceman who died in combat in Vietnam to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in 1984, it was the only set of remains that couldn’t be identified from the war. Now, thankfully, there will never likely be a soldier who dies in battle whose body can’t be identified. And as a result of DNA technology, even the unknowns currently interred in the tomb can be positively identified. The Known Unknown

6 March 2019


343- Usonia Redux

343- Usonia Redux

Frank Lloyd Wright changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This modest home would go on to shape the way working- and middle-class Americans live to this day. Usonia Redux This episode is a recut combination of episodes 246 & 247

26 February 2019


342- Beneath the Ballpark

342- Beneath the Ballpark

In the 1950s, Los Angeles was an up-and-coming city but wasn’t quite there yet. City leaders were looking for a way to boost Los Angeles's profile as a world class city and also give Angelenos something to rally behind. They believed that what L.A. really needed was a baseball team. They picked Chavez Ravine, near downtown LA, as the perfect home for a perfect new stadium, but the land had been home to a vibrant community of Mexican and Mexican American families for decades. Beneath the Ballpark

20 February 2019


341- National Sword

341- National Sword

Where does your recycling go? In most places in the U.S., you throw it in a bin, and then it gets carted off to be sorted and cleaned at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). From there, much of it is shipped off to mills, where bales of paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic are pulped or melted into raw materials. Some of these mills are here in the U.S. And once upon a time, many of them were in China. Since 2001, China was one of the biggest buyers of American recycling.  That is, until last year, when China pulled a move that no one saw coming: they stopped buying. National Sword

13 February 2019


340- The Secret Lives of Color

340- The Secret Lives of Color

Here at 99% Invisible, we think about color a lot, so it was really exciting when we came across a beautiful book called The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair It’s this amazing collection of stories about different colors, the way they’ve been made through history, and the lengths to which people will go to get the brightest splash of color. The Secret Lives of Color

5 February 2019


339- The Tunnel

339- The Tunnel

In May of 1990, law enforcement raided a warehouse in Douglas, AZ and a private home across the border in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Connecting the two buildings, they found a tunnel, more sophisticated than anything anyone had seen before. The tunnel in Douglas became a kind of prototype for many tunnels afterwards and a hallmark of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Tunnel

30 January 2019


338- Crude Habitat

338- Crude Habitat

Santa Barbara, California, is a famously beautiful place, but if you look offshore from one of the city's many beaches, you'll see a series of artificial structures that stand out against the natural blue horizon. These oil platforms are at the center of a complicated debate going on right now within the environmental community about the relationship between nature and human infrastructure. Crude Habitat 99% Invisible’s Impact Design coverage is supported by Autodesk. The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social and environmental challenges. Learn more about these efforts on Autodesk's RedShift.

23 January 2019


337- Atomic Tattoos

337- Atomic Tattoos

In the early 1950s, teenage students in Lake County, Indiana, got up from their desks, marched down the halls and lined up at stations. There, fingers were pricked, blood was tested and the teenagers were sent on to the library, where they waited to get a specialized tattoo. Each one was in the same place on the torso, just under the left arm, and spelled out the blood type of the student. This experimental program was called Operation Tat-Type. It was administered by the county and the idea was simple: to make it easier to transfuse blood after an atomic bomb. At the age of 16, producer Liza Yeager's grandmother, who went to school in Lake County, was permanently marked in anticipation of a nuclear catastrophe. Atomic Tattoos

16 January 2019


336- Mini-Stories: Volume 6

336- Mini-Stories: Volume 6

99% Invisible is starting the year off with the sixth installment of our staff mini-stories. Kicking off 2019 are a set of tales about a perpetual lie about New York City, karaoke, a 50-foot-tall burning puppet, the result of a Canada-U.S. border dispute, and time thieves. Mini-Stories: Volume 6

9 January 2019


335- Gathering the Magic

335- Gathering the Magic

Magic: The Gathering is a card game and your goal is to knock your opponent down to zero points. But Magic: The Gathering also has a deep mythology about an infinite number of parallel worlds. Eric Molinsky of Imaginary Worlds looks at why this handheld card game has survived the onslaught of competition from digital games, and how the designers at Wizards of the Coast create a sense of story and world-building within a non-sequential card game. Subscribe to Imaginary Worlds on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic

1 January 2019


334- Christmas with The Allusionist

334- Christmas with The Allusionist

For the holidays this year, we're presenting a two-part Radiotopia feature with friend of the show (and host of The Allusionist podcast) Helen Zaltzman, each tackling a different aspect of this festive season. Subscribe to The Allusionist on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic

26 December 2018


333- Mini-Stories: Volume 5

333- Mini-Stories: Volume 5

It’s the end of 2018 and time for our annual Mini-stories episodes. These are my favorite episodes of the year to make. Mini-stories are fun, quick hit stories that don’t quite warrant a full episode and two months of hard reporting, but they’re great 99pi stories nonetheless. This week we have stories of 60s cult TV shows, semi-useless gadgets, woo woo miracles cures, and a modern Christmas tradition. Mini-Stories: Volume 5 Support Radiotopia today!

18 December 2018


Bonus Episode- Avery talks Articles of Interest with Roman

Bonus Episode- Avery talks Articles of Interest with Roman

Roman talks with Avery about the lessons learned from making Articles of Interest Don’t buy that new piece of clothing and use a bit of that money to support Radiotopia

14 December 2018


332- The Accidental Room

332- The Accidental Room

A group of artists find a secret room in a massive shopping center in Providence, RI and discover a new way to experience the mall. Plus, we look at the origin of the very first mall and the fascinating man who designed it, Victor Gruen. The Accidental Room Subscribe to Vanessa Lowe’s Nocturne DONATE NOW to Radiotopia!

12 December 2018


331- Oñate's Foot

331- Oñate's Foot

Juan de Oñate is one of the world’s lesser-known conquistadors, but his name can be found all over New Mexico. There are Oñate streets, Oñate schools, and, of course, Oñate statues. When an activist group removed one foot off an Oñate statue in 1998, they said it was a symbolic act meant to highlight the atrocities Oñate committed against the indigenous population. Just as people in New Mexico were learning more of this history, the city of Albuquerque was considering building yet another statue of him. This resulted in a years long conflict about how New Mexico should commemorate a “founding father” who committed such cruel acts. Oñate’s Foot This was a collaboration with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX Please support the 2018 Radiotopia fund drive!

5 December 2018


330- Raccoon Resistance

330- Raccoon Resistance

After Toronto unveiled its "raccoon-resistant" compost bins in 2016, some people feared the animals would be starved, but many more celebrated the innovative design. Rolling out this novel locked bin opened a new battlefront in city's ongoing "war on raccoons." Journalist Amy Dempsey was researching the bins and raccoon behavior when her reporting took an unexpected turn down her own garbage-strewn alleyway. Had local raccoons finally figured out how to defeat the greatest human effort in our “war” against their kind? Raccoon Resistance SUPPORT RADIOTOPIA TODAY!

27 November 2018


201- The Green Book redux

201- The Green Book redux

The new film “Green Book” is rolling out across the country. I have not seen the film, so I can’t speak to its merits or shortcomings, but while people are possibly being introduced to the concept of the Green Book for the first time, we thought we’d re-release this story from a few years ago about the origin and significance of the Green Book: the Negro Motorists’ Travel Guide to the segregated US. As a special bonus to our story, we also have a Green Book story from Nate DiMeo of the memory palace. Nate had coincidentally written his episode called “Open Road” and we both released them without having heard the other. I think hearing them one after the other is real treat. The Green Book Subscribe to the memory palace in Apple Podcasts or Radio Public

21 November 2018


329- Orphan Drugs

329- Orphan Drugs

We chronicle the epic struggle to get drugs that treat very rare diseases on the market, and the unintended consequence of that fight, which affected the cost of all kinds of drugs. This is a strange story that involves a hit 70s TV show, a fake march on Washington, a courageous advocate, a carnival concessions wholesaler, and a new drug law that helped a lot of people, made drug companies billions of dollars, and opened a whole can of worms. Adapted from the new podcast An Arm and a Leg by Dan Weissmann Orphan Drugs

14 November 2018


328- Devolutionary Design

328- Devolutionary Design

It’s hard to overstate just how important record album art was to music in the days before people downloaded everything. Visuals were a key part of one's experience with a record or tape or CD. The design of the album cover created a first impression of what was to come. Album art was certainly important to reporter Sean Cole, one particular album by one particular band: Devo. This is the story of Devo’s first record and the fight over the arresting image of a flashy, handsome golf legend on the cover. Plus, Katie Mingle gets the backstory of the Langley Schools Music Project LP, a haunting and uplifting outsider artist masterpiece. Devolutionary Design

6 November 2018


327- A Year in the Dark

327- A Year in the Dark

Early on the morning of September 20th, 2017, a category four hurricane named Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico. It was a beast of a hurricane -- the strongest one to hit the island since 1932. Daniel Alarcon went down to Puerto Rico to report on the aftermath of the storm. He wrote a piece for Wired about the almost year-long struggle to get power working on the island, and the utility worker who became a Puerto Rican folk hero. A Year in the Dark

31 October 2018


326- Welcome to Jurassic Art

326- Welcome to Jurassic Art

At least for the time being, art is the primary way we experience dinosaurs. We can study bones and fossils, but barring the invention of time travel, we will never see how these animals lived with our own eyes. There are no photos or videos, of course, which means that if we want to picture how they look, someone has to draw them. The illustrated interpretation of dinosaur morphology and behavior has had a big impact on how the public views dinosaurs and it's gone through a couple of key turning points, including a more recent push for more speculative paleoart. Welcome to Jurassic Art

23 October 2018


325- The Worst Way to Start a City

325- The Worst Way to Start a City

Sam Anderson, author of Boom Town, guides us through the chaotic founding of Oklahoma City, which happened all in one day in 1889, in an event called the Land Run. Plus, we talk about Operation Bongo, the supersonic flight tests that rattled OKC residents in the 1960s. Anderson calls Operation Bongo his favorite research discovery of his entire career. The Worst Way to Start a City

16 October 2018


Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6

Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6

There is this myth that it’s frivolous or unproductive to care about how you look. Clothing and fashion get trivialized a lot. But think about who, culturally, gets associated with clothing and fashion: young people, women, queers, and people of color. Groups of people who historically haven’t had a voice, have expressed themselves on their bodies. Through their style, their hair, their tattoos, their piercings, and what they wear. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6

12 October 2018


Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5

Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5

For the most part, we tend to keep our clothes relatively clean and avoid spills and rips and tears. But denim is so hard-wearing and hard-working that it just kind of amasses more and more signs of wear. So you can learn a lot from observing an old pair of blue jeans. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5

9 October 2018


Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

There are a few ways to tell if you’re looking at an authentic, high-quality aloha shirt. If the pockets match the pattern, that’s a good sign, but it’s not everything. Much of understanding an aloha shirt is about paying attention to what is on the shirt itself. It’s about looking at the pattern to see the story it tells. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

5 October 2018


Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women's clothes have pockets at all, they are often and smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

2 October 2018


Plaid: Articles of Interest #2

Plaid: Articles of Interest #2

Lumberjacks wore plaid. Punks wore plaid mini skirts. The Beach Boys used to be called the Pendletones, and they wore plaid with their surfboards. Lots of different groups have adopted the pattern over the course of the 20th century, but if we want to explore how this pattern proliferated, we’ve got to go to Scotland. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear: a six-part series looking at clothing within 99% Invisible created by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Plaid: Articles of Interest #2

28 September 2018


Kids' Clothes: Articles of Interest #1

Kids' Clothes: Articles of Interest #1

Clothes are records of the bodies we’ve lived in. Think of the old sweater that you used to have that's just not your style anymore, or the jeans that just aren’t your size anymore. We are like snakes who shed our skins and grow new ones as we age. And it all starts in the kids' department. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear: a six-part series looking at clothing within 99% Invisible. AoI is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th. Kids’ Clothes: Articles of Interest #1

25 September 2018


324- Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time

324- Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time

The year was 1982, and in the small city of Allentown on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania sat an AM radio station called WSAN. For years, it had broadcast country music to the surrounding Lehigh Valley -- an area known for malls, manufacturing and Mack Trucks. WSAN was about to undergo a complete identity change, from a country station and to a "nostalgia" station -- meaning Big Band, and soft hits from the 1950’s. They wanted a gimmick to hook new listeners, so WSAN decided to launch a good old-fashioned endurance contest, reminiscent of the pole sitting stunts or dance marathons popular in the 1920’s. They secured a local sponsor, Love Homes, to donate a prize: a single-wide modular home worth $18,000. It seemed like a simple marketing strategy, but WSAN had grossly underestimated just how much people would endure for a little economic security. Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time

19 September 2018


323- The House that Came in the Mail

323- The House that Came in the Mail

The Sear & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early twentieth century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world -- itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses. The House that Came in the Mail

11 September 2018


322- The First Straw

322- The First Straw

A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America. The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things—rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss. The First Straw

5 September 2018


321- Double Standards

321- Double Standards

Blepharoplasty is often done to lift loose or sagging skin around the upper eyelids caused by aging. But for a lot of people of Asian descent, this surgery is not strictly about aging and more commonly referred to as “double eyelid” surgery. The double eyelid surgery adds a crease -- so instead of the skin of the upper lid running smoothly from the bottom of the eyebrow straight down to the eyelashes, there is now a small indented fold in the skin, just a few millimeters wide, that runs in a horizontal crescent above the lash line. In 2017 alone over 12,500 Asian Americans had double eyelid surgery, and given the racist history behind the procedure, it makes sense that some people in the U.S. are vocally critical about it...but it’s more complicated than that. Double Standards

29 August 2018


320- Bundyville

320- Bundyville

Most of the American west is owned by the Federal Government. About 85 percent of Nevada, 61 percent of Alaska, 53 percent of Oregon, the list goes on.  And there have always been questions about how this immense swath of land should be used. Should we allow ranchers to graze cattle, or should the western land be a place where wild animals can roam free and be protected, or is it land we want to reserve for recreation?  As you can imagine, there is no consensus on the answers to these questions but there are a LOT of strong feelings, and over the years, those strong feelings have sometimes bubbled up to the surface and manifested in protests and even violence. In 2016, a group of armed militants occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in western Oregon. They were led by a cattle rancher by the name of Ammon Bundy - the son of Cliven Bundy. Perhaps you heard about it but never understood exactly what it was all about. Well, today we bring you a story from Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting reported by Leah Sottile- it's the first in series they put together that looks deeply into the fascinating and even sometimes wonky details of how the american west is managed, why the Bundys are so angry about it, and the religious ideology that undergirds their fight against the federal government. Bundyville The Bundyville series on Longreads

21 August 2018


319- It's Chinatown

319- It's Chinatown

For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for people from China, the Chinatown aesthetic can feel surprisingly foreign. The same goes for fortune cookies. Two stories from the 99pi archive about the complex and interesting ways China has been interpreted by America. It’s Chinatown

14 August 2018


318- Fire and Rain

318- Fire and Rain

Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, right next to Santa Barbara, sits Montecito, California. The region endures a major fire approximately once every 10 years. For this landscape, fire is predictable and it is inevitable. Now, coupled with multi-year drought, it is becoming unmanageable. For decades, locals have taken fire as a fact of life, rebuilding as needed. But that acceptance is getting harder to sustain as fires become more frequent and more intense -- and as communities are forced to reckon with rebuilding again and again. Area residents and officials are starting to rethink how they deal with disaster. Last year, there was another fire -- the largest in California history up to that point -- that made people feel a new sense of danger. Fire and Rain

8 August 2018


317- Built to Burn

317- Built to Burn

After the massive Panorama Fire in southern California in 1980, a young fire researcher named Jack Cohen went in to investigate the houses that were destroyed. One of the first things that Cohen did was to listen to emergency dispatch tapes from the day of the fire. And as he listened, he began to notice a pattern. People were calling in about houses on fire long before the fire front ever reached their neighborhoods.The houses were not burning because a wall of flames was racing through the community, destroying them. It was something else: embers. This started Cohen on a crusade to get people to rethink how we fight wildfires. Built to Burn

1 August 2018


316- The Shipping Forecast

316- The Shipping Forecast

Four times every day, on radios all across the British Isles, a BBC announcer begins reading from a seemingly indecipherable script. "And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency," says the voice over the wire. "Viking, North Utsire; southwesterly five to seven; occasionally gale eight; rain or showers; moderate or good, occasionally poor." Cryptic and mesmerizing, this is the UK’s nautical weather report. The Shipping Forecast

25 July 2018


315- Everything is Alive

315- Everything is Alive

Louis is a can of generic cola. He’s been on the shelf a long while, so he’s had some time to think. Go2 is a store brand. "People call it a knockoff," says Louis. "I've been called the best of the worst. Bottom-shelf. We can describe it as bottom-shelf. I'm at peace with that." Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show with host Ian Chillag in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. In each episode, a different thing tells us its life story -- and everything it says is true. Subscribe to Everything is Alive on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic

18 July 2018


314- Interrobang

314- Interrobang

In the spring of 1962, an ad man named Martin Speckter was thinking about advertising when he realized something: many ads asked questions, but not just any questions -- excited and exclamatory questions -- a trend not unique to his time. Got milk?! Where's the beef?! Can you hear me now?! So he asked himself: could there be a mark that made it clear (visually on a page) that something is both a question and an exclamation?! Speckter was also the editor of the typography magazine *TYPEtalks, *so  in March of 1962, in an article for the magazine titled “Making a New Point, Or How About That…”, Speckter proposed the first new mark of English language punctuation in 300 years: the interrobang. Plus, we revisit the story of another special character, the octothorpe. Interrobang

10 July 2018


Roman Mars on ZigZag

Roman Mars on ZigZag

This is a special presentation of episode #4 of Radiotopia's newest show ZigZag. Manoush and Jen give themselves 36 hours in San Francisco to come up with a financial backup plan, just in case this whole blockchain-token-thing doesn’t work out. Silicon Valley runs on VC money so maybe Stable Genius Productions should too? First, they talk to a well-known venture capitalist on whether aligning their mission with investor expectations is a laughable goal. Then, they visit Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible and Radiotopia co-founder, at his headquarters in Oakland. He explains how he built his podcasting empire and advises Manoush and Jen on their plan. ZigZag Subscribe in Apple Podcasts Subscribe in RadioPublic

5 July 2018


VIDEO- Why Danger Symbols Can't Last Forever with Vox

VIDEO- Why Danger Symbols Can't Last Forever with Vox

The world is full of icons that warn us to be afraid — to stay away from this or not do that. And many of these are easy to understand because they represent something recognizable, like a fire, or a person slipping on a wet floor. But some concepts are hard to communicate visually, especially in a way that will work for generations to come.  99% Invisible teamed up with Vox to bring you this video about the challenges designers face in developing warning symbols that last. Why Danger Symbols Can't Last Forever Check out all of Vox’s videos. They’re top drawer.

4 July 2018


313- Right to Roam

313- Right to Roam

In the United Kingdom, the freedom to walk through private land is known as “the right to roam.” The movement to win this right was started in the 1930s by a rebellious group of young people who called themselves “ramblers” and spent their days working in the factories of Manchester, England. Plus, bothy talk. Right to Roam

27 June 2018


312- Post-Narco Urbanism

312- Post-Narco Urbanism

In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord, had effectively declared war on the Colombian state. At one point, his cartel was supplying 80% of the world's cocaine and the violence surrounding the drug trade had become extreme. The bloodshed was focused in the city of Medellin. As the years went on, Medellin became the most dangerous city in the world. But today, Medellin is very different. In just thirty years, it’s transformed from being the bloody cocaine capital of the world into a place that’s often described as a “model city.” It’s now safer than many cities in the U.S, and, to the surprise of many, one of the things that helped to pull the city out of the violence was a whole new approach to urban planning, including a major overhaul of the city’s public transportation system. Post-Narco Urbanism This is a collaboration with Latino USA Check out the new Radiotopia show ZigZag. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

20 June 2018


311- The Barney Design

311- The Barney Design

Until the early 90s, basketball uniforms were pretty tame. There had been real limits to what could be done with jerseys. All the details—the numbers, the names, the logos—had to be sewed on. Complicated graphics would have taken a massive amount of embroidery, which would have added additional weight and made the jersey hotter to wear. But dye sublimation changed everything. Sublimation is a process of printing dye directly into the fabric. Now for the first time, you could design something in Photoshop, and make it as big and colorful as you wanted. Then with sublimation, you could print that design straight onto the material without any embroidery or extra weight. This allowed NBA teams to go wild…and they did…which led to one of the most famous love-it-or-hate-it basketball jersey, the 1996 Toronto Raptors’ “Barney Uniform.” The Barney Design

13 June 2018


310- 77 Steps

310- 77 Steps

As the U.S. war effort ramped up in the early 1940s, the Navy put out a request for chair design submissions. They needed a chair that was fireproof, waterproof, lightweight and strong enough to survive a torpedo blast. In response, engineer named Wilton C. Dinges designed a chair made out of aluminum, bent and welded to be super strong. To show off the durability of his creation, Dinges took it up to the eighth floor of a hotel in Chicago, where the Navy was examining submissions, and threw it out of the window. It bounced, but didn't bend or break. And so the Navy gave its inventor the contract, and he, in turn, opened a factory and called new his business the Electrical Machine and Equipment Company, or: Emeco. Over the decades the Emeco Navy chair became so popular that companies began to copy it. There are now tons of knockoffs -- fakes. Last month, Benjamen Walker of Theory of Everything walked 99% Invisible Host Roman Mars around New York city, pointing out real and fake Emeco chairs. 77 Steps

6 June 2018


309- The Vault

309- The Vault

Svalbard is a remote Norwegian archipelago with reindeer, Arctic foxes and only around 2,500 humans -- but it is also home to a vault containing seeds for virtually every edible plant one can imagine. The mountainside Crop Trust facility has thousands of varieties of coconuts, corn, rice and more, serving as a seed backup for humanity. For each crop, there’s an envelope with 500 seeds. This featured episode from the show “Endless Thread” explores an unusual reserve of invaluable resources. Plus, Emmett tells about another seed bank in more precarious part of the world. The Vault

30 May 2018


308- Curb Cuts

308- Curb Cuts

If you live in an American city and you don’t personally use a wheelchair, it's easy to overlook the small ramp at most intersections, between the sidewalk and the street. Today, these curb cuts are everywhere, but fifty years ago -- when an activist named Ed Roberts was young -- most urban corners featured a sharp drop-off, making it difficult for him and other wheelchair users to get between blocks without assistance. Curb Cuts

23 May 2018


307- Immobile Homes

307- Immobile Homes

"Part of the paradox at the heart of manufactured housing," explains Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver "is that it's precisely the thing that makes it so affordable that also makes this a highly insecure form of housing." Sullivan says that about a third of mobile homeowners live in parks where they rent a plot of land for their home. She calls this arrangement halfway homeownership, because it’s filled with  uncertainty. The property owners can raise rents, or fail to maintain communal infrastructure, or even sell the park and evict everyone living in it. Often there isn't a lot that residents can do, but now there is a new movement of cooperative ownership of mobile home parks. Immobile Homes

16 May 2018


306- Breaking Bad News

306- Breaking Bad News

When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient -- that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment. That's why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes moment. And that’s not the only connection between acting and this particular facet of medicine. It turns out that one of the first doctors to recognize the challenges of this particular kind of doctor-patient communication wasn’t just a physician -- he was also a comedian. And he drew on that experience to transform the way that doctors break bad news. Breaking Bad News

9 May 2018


305- The Laff Box

305- The Laff Box

For nearly five decades, the laugh track was ubiquitous on television sitcoms, but in the early 2000s, it began to disappear. What happened? How did we get from the raucous canned laughter of the Beverly Hillbillies to the silent, sly “joke every 20 seconds” of 30 Rock? The curious story of the laugh track starts with one man who created the laugh track as a homemade piece of technology that took over the sound of television and then fell out of fashion with the rise of a more modern sense of humor. What happened to the laugh track is one of the cultural mysteries that are being explored on Slate’s new monthly podcast:  Decoder Ring with Willa Paskin The Laff Box Plus, Roman talks to The West Wing Weekly co-host Joshua Malina about his time acting on Sports Night, which was a turning point in the history of the television laugh track. Learn more and subscribe to Decoder Ring Subscribe to The West Wing Weekly

1 May 2018


304- Gander International Airport

304- Gander International Airport

The Gander Airport in Newfoundland was once the easternmost airfield in North America, so when transatlantic air travel was new and difficult through the mid-20th century, Gander played a critical role in getting people back and forth from Europe to America. This made the tiny town of Gander an unlikely international hub, hosting the likes of Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the Queen of England in the beautiful, mid-century modern lounge. The lounge and bar at the airport also served as the town’s major hotspot, so the locals just hung out there, always with the possibility they’d rub elbows with a huge international celebrity. Once airplanes could easily make it across the Atlantic without refueling in Gander, the airport got really quiet, but the town that hosted the most famous people in the world found a new purpose on 9/11 when they welcomed 7000 stranded passengers unable to enter US airspace. Gander International Airport

25 April 2018


303- The Hair Chart

303- The Hair Chart

Andre Walker became famous for being Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, but he is also known for something else: a system that he created back in the 1990s to market his line of hair care products. The system categorizes natural hair types, and it's often referred to simply as "the hair chart." The chart identifies four hair types and within each of those categories there are different sub-types. The chart spans straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair. For Walker, the chart was all about selling his products. People could use it to identify their hair type and then buy a complementary product. But the chart has gone way beyond his own hair care line and become a way some African-American people talk and think about hair. Not everyone thinks the categories are helpful, and some of the criticism has its roots far back in American history. The Hair Chart This episode is a collaboration with The Stoop, a podcast hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba, which features stories from across the black diaspora.

17 April 2018


302- Lessons from Las Vegas

302- Lessons from Las Vegas

To this day, architects tend to turn their noses up at Las Vegas, or simply dismiss it as irrelevant to serious design theory. But as Denise Scott Brown discovered in the mid-1960s, there is so much to learn from Las Vegas about how to make architecture that speaks to people and not just to architects. Lessons from Las Vegas

10 April 2018


301- Making it Rain

301- Making it Rain

The battlefield has always been at the mercy of the climate, but there was a time in U.S. military history when we did more than just pray for advantageous weather. We tried to create it. Making it Rain

3 April 2018


300- Airships and the Future that Never Was

300- Airships and the Future that Never Was

They are hulking, but graceful -- human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the public imagination, playing a recurring role in our dreams of alternate realities and futures that might have been. In these visions, cargo and passengers traverse the globe in smoothly gliding aircraft, then dock elegantly at the mooring towers on top of Art Deco skyscrapers. Today, blimps are mostly just PR gimmicks, but for 100 years, lighter-than-air crafts were seriously considered as the perfect design solution for all kinds of problems, at least in theory. And despite setbacks and failures, people just wouldn’t give up on the promise of airships. The most promising (and most opulent) rigid airship of the 1920s era was Britain’s R101 (the R stands for rigid) and its rise and dramatic fall is the primary subject of engineering expert Bill Hammack’s new book about Britain’s last great airship, called Fatal Flight. Airships and the Future that Never Was

27 March 2018


299- Gerrymandering

299- Gerrymandering

The way we draw our political districts has a huge effect on U.S. politics, but the process is also greatly misunderstood. Gerrymandering has become a scapegoat for what’s wrong with the polarized American political system, blamed for marginalizing groups and rigging elections, but there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all design solution for drawing fair districts. Drawing districts may be the most important design problem of representative democracy and this week FiveThirtyEight will guide us through the ways different states have tackled this problem. Gerrymandering Check out the full Five Thirty Eight series The Gerrymandering Project

21 March 2018


200- Miss Manhattan Redux

200- Miss Manhattan Redux

All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She has gone by many names, from Star Maiden to Priestess of Culture, Spirit of Life to Mourning Victory. Now nearly forgotten, Audrey Munson was once the most famous artist’s model in the United States. In and beyond her time, she has represented many things, including truth, memory, seasons, the stars, and even the universe itself. Immortalized in iron, marble and gold, Audrey remains perched on high, quietly watching over cities from coast to coast. Miss Manhattan

14 March 2018


298- Fordlandia

298- Fordlandia

In the late 1920s, the Ford Motor Company bought up millions of acres of land in Brazil. They loaded boats with machinery and supplies, and shipped them deep into the Amazon rainforest. Workers cut down trees and cleared the land and then they built a rubber plantation in the middle of one of the wildest places on earth. But Henry Ford wanted this community -- called “Fordlândia” -- to be more than just a huge plantation. He envisioned an industrial utopia. He paid his Brazilian workers good wages, at least for the region. And he tried to build them the kind of place he would’ve loved to live, which is to say: a small Midwestern town...but in the middle of the jungle. Fordlandia In the second segment, we discuss Roman’s other show What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

7 March 2018


297- Blood, Sweat and Tears (City of the Future, Part 2)

297- Blood, Sweat and Tears (City of the Future, Part 2)

The Bijlmermeer (or Bijlmer, for short) was built just outside of Amsterdam in the 1960s. It was designed by modernist architects to be a "city of the future" with its functions separated into distinct zones. To Modernists, it represented a vision of the city as a well-oiled machine Upon completion, it was a massive expanse of 31 concrete towers. There were 13,000 apartments, many of them unoccupied. Just sitting there, totally empty. Listen to Part 1 of this story here. In Part 2, we look at how the migration of tens of thousands of Surinamese Dutch began to give the empty place life where it wasn’t before and how a tragic accident kickstarted a redesign that managed to do what the Modernists neglected to do: listen to the people who live there. Blood, Sweat and Tears (City of the Future, Part 2)

28 February 2018


296- Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

296- Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

After World War 2, city planners in Amsterdam wanted to design the perfect “City of the Future.” They decided to build a new neighborhood, close to Amsterdam, that would be a perfect encapsulation of Modernist principles. It was called the Bijlmermeer, and it tested the lofty ideas of the International Congress of Modern Architecture on a grand scale. When it was over, no one would ever try it again. Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

21 February 2018


295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

The Chase logo was introduced in 1961, when the Chase National Bank and the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged to form the Chase Manhattan Bank. At the time, few American corporations used abstract symbols for their identification. Seen as radical in that context, the Chase symbol has survived a number of subsequent mergers and has become one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Its graphic designer, Tom Geismar, has been a driving force in the field of design and graphic identity for over 60 years. The influence of the firm he co-founded can be felt in logos you see every day. Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

13 February 2018


294- Border Wall

294- Border Wall

When current President Donald Trump took office, he promised to build an “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall." The first part of this episode by Radio Diaries tells two stories of what happens when, instead of people crossing the border, the border crosses the people. Then, in part two of the show, Avery Trufelman takes a closer look at eight current designs that have been turned into prototypes near the border in California. Border Wall Learn more about Radio Diaries

6 February 2018


293- Managed Retreat

293- Managed Retreat

In the 1970s it looked like the beloved, 200-year-old Cape Hatteras lighthouse was in danger. The sea was getting closer and threatening to swallow it up. And people were torn over what to do about it - they could move the lighthouse, or leave it in place and try to defend it against the forces of nature. For the next 30 years, the locals fought an intense political battle over this decision. It’s the kind of battle we can expect to see a lot more of as sea levels rise and threaten coastal communities around the world. Managed Retreat

31 January 2018


292- Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud

292- Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud

Cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud has been making and thinking about comics for decades. He is the author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. This classic volume explores formal aspects of comics, the historical development of the medium, its fundamental vocabulary, and various ways in which these elements have been used. Scott McCloud breaks down some of the universals in comics and guides us through some of the comic books that pushed the art form forward. Then we use that lens to look at graphic communication in the world at large. Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud

23 January 2018


291- Thermal Delight

291- Thermal Delight

When air conditioning was invented in 1902, it was designed to take out the humidity in the air so printers could run four color magazines, without the colors becoming offset due to the paper warping from moisture. A young engineer named Willis Carrier developed a system that pumps air over metal coils cooled with ammonia to pull moisture from the air, but it had a side effect -- it also made the air cooler. Very quickly Carrier began to think about how it could be used beyond printing. Ultimately, air conditioning would dramatically change where people in the United States lived and the design of homes and other buildings. Thermal Delight

17 January 2018


290- Mini-Stories: Volume 4

290- Mini-Stories: Volume 4

This part two of the 2017/2018 mini-stories episodes, where Roman interviews the staff and our collaborators about their favorite little design stories that don’t quite fill out an entire episode for whatever reason, but are cool 99pi stories, nonetheless. We have underground tunnels, alarms, mysterious filing cabinets, and gold, tiny, tiny amounts of gold. Prepare to be very interesting at your next party. Mini-Stories: Volume 4

10 January 2018


Biomimicry- Vox + 99% Invisible Video

Biomimicry- Vox + 99% Invisible Video

Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour. It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of "tunnel boom," where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds. Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus. This is one of a series of design videos we're launching in partnership with Vox. Biomimicry Subscribe to Vox’s YouTube channel here: http://goo.gl/0bsAjO

2 January 2018


289- Mini-Stories: Volume 3

289- Mini-Stories: Volume 3

It’s the end of the year and time for our annual Mini-stories episodes. Mini-stories are quick hit stories that were maybe pitched to us from someone in the audience, or something interesting we saw on twitter, or just a cool tidbit that we found in our research that stuck in our heads, but didn’t warrant a full episode for whatever reason. We’ll have stories of mysterious ice boats, green ruins, sack dresses, steampunk violins, and a little update from a couple of the notable city flags that have been redesigned around the country. Mini-Stories: Volume 3

20 December 2017


288- Guerrilla Public Service Redux

288- Guerrilla Public Service Redux

In the early morning of August 5, 2001, artist Richard Ankrom and a group of friends assembled on the 4th Street bridge over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. They had gathered to commit a crime. Years before, when Ankrom was driving through downtown Los Angeles, he was going to merge onto the I-5 North. But he missed the exit and got lost. The I-5 exit wasn’t indicated on the green overhead sign. It was clear to Ankrom that the California Department of Transportation had made a mistake. And for some reason, this stuck with him. Ankrom, an artist and sign painter, decided to make the Interstate 5 North shield himself. He also decided that he would take it upon himself to install it above the 110 freeway. He would call it an act of “guerrilla public service.”

12 December 2017


287- The Nut Behind the Wheel

287- The Nut Behind the Wheel

In the past fifty years, the car crash death rate has dropped by nearly 80 percent in the United States. And one of the reasons for that drop has to do with the “accident report forms” that police officers fill out when they respond to a wreck. Officers use these forms to document the weather conditions, to draw a diagram of the accident, and to identify the collision’s “primary cause.” All that information gathered on the side of the road goes from the accident report form into a federal database: the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Car companies, safety advocates, and regulators comb through this data constantly, looking for patterns that help them understand how and why people die in car wrecks. In turn, this information helps designers and engineers create safer vehicles and roadways. The data informs all kinds of design decisions around car safety — everything from speed limits to mandatory seat belts. But this culture of heavily regulated, data-driven, auto-safety engineering did not always exist. In fact, for decades, automakers tried to keep data about car wrecks to themselves. They not only resisted making cars safer, they argued the very idea of a “safe car” was impossible. The Nut Behind the Wheel

5 December 2017


286- A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream

286- A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream

While the 1960s shift in print and TV advertising has been heavily documented and mythologized by Mad Men, Madison Avenue’s radiophonic collision with the counterculture is less well known. A radio advertising producer, writer, and composer, Clive Desmond takes listeners on a highly subjective journey through one narrow, eccentric, corridor of radio advertising. Here, he has rescued beautiful forgotten nuggets of radio history and delicately arranged them into a glittering associative chain—a constellation of jingles and spots that somehow all add up to more. A version of episode was originally featured on The Organist, a bi-weekly experimental arts-and-culture program from McSweeney's and KCRW. A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream

28 November 2017


285- Money Makers

285- Money Makers

For a long time, anti-counterfeiting laws made it illegal to show US currency in movies. Now you can show real money, but fake money is often preferred. Creating fake money that doesn’t break the law, but looks real enough for film, is a tough design challenge. Money Makers

21 November 2017


284- Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television

284- Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television

When a new movie comes out, most of the praise goes to the director and the lead actors, but there are so many other people involved in a film, and a lot of them are designers. There are costume designers and set designers, but also graphic designers working behind the scenes on every single graphic object that you might need in a film. It’s Annie Atkins’s job to design them. Hero Props

14 November 2017


283- Dollhouses of St. Louis

283- Dollhouses of St. Louis

Back in the 1950s, St. Louis was segregated and The Ville was one of the only African-American neighborhoods in the city. The community was prosperous. Black-owned businesses thrived and the neighborhood was filled with the lovely, ornate brick homes the city has become famous for. But driving around The Ville today, the neighborhood looks very different. Some buildings are simply rundown or abandoned, but others are missing large chunks entirely. Walls have disappeared. The bricks are gone. "We call them dollhouses," says local Alderman Samuel Moore, "because you can look inside of them." People have been stealing the bricks. Dollhouses of St. Louis Support Radiotopia

7 November 2017


282- Oyster-tecture

282- Oyster-tecture

New York was built at the mouth of the Hudson River, and that fertile estuary environment was filled with all kinds of marine life. But one creature in particular shaped the landscape: the oyster. It is estimated that trillions of oysters once surrounded New York City, filtering bacteria and acting as a natural buffer against storm surges. Over time, pollution and other environmental changes killed off that oyster population. But a group of landscape architects are designing artificial oyster reefs to help protect the city and foster a better relationship between the natural and built environment along this coastal edge. Oyster-tecture Support Radiotopia

31 October 2017


281- La Sagrada Familia

281- La Sagrada Familia

There are a lot of Gothic churches in Spain, but this one is different. It doesn’t look like a Gothic cathedral. It looks organic, like it was built out of bones or sand. But there’s another thing that sets it apart from your average old Gothic cathedral: it isn’t actually old. Gaudí wasn’t able to build very much of his famous church before he died in 1926. Most of it has been built in the last 40 years, and it still isn’t finished. Which means that architects have had to figure out, and still are figuring out, how Gaudí wanted the church to be built La Sagrada Familia

25 October 2017


280- Half Measures

280- Half Measures

The United States is one of just a handful of countries that that isn’t officially metric. Instead, Americans measure things our own way, in units that are basically inscrutable to non-Americans, nearly all of whom have been brought up in an all-metric environment. Most of the world uses meters, liters, and kilograms, not yards, gallons, and pounds. With so many industries and people crossing borders with so much fluidity, why has the U.S. not fully committed to the system the rest of the world uses? The answer is complicated. Half Measures

18 October 2017


279- The Containment Plan

279- The Containment Plan

It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It spans roughly 50 blocks, which is about a fifth of the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. It’s very clear when you’ve entered Skid Row. The sidewalks are mostly occupied by makeshift homes. A dizzying array of tarps and tents stretch out for blocks, improvised living structures sitting side by side. The edge of Skid Row is clearly defined and it wasn’t drawn by accident.  It’s the result of a very specific plan to keep homeless people on one side and development on the other. And, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders: it’s a plan that Skid Row residents and their allies actually designed and fought for. The Containment Plan

11 October 2017


278- The Athletic Brassiere

278- The Athletic Brassiere

Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle. Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to stitch a couple jock straps together to build a contraption to keep things in place. This featured story was produced by Phoebe Flanigan and edited by Peter Frick-Wright, with music by Robbie Carver and Dennis Funk. XX Factor: How the Sports Bra Changed History was originally aired on the Outside podcast, a production of Outside Magazine and PRX. The Athletic Brassiere

3 October 2017


277- Ponte City Tower

277- Ponte City Tower

Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something far more complicated. It’s gone through very hard times, but also it’s hopeful. It’s a microcosm of the South Africa’s history, but it’s also a place that moves on. And to this day, this strange concrete tube at the center of Johannesburg’s skyline continues to play the same role for newcomers that it has for decades: serving as the diverse entry point to the city. Ponte City Tower

26 September 2017


276- The Finnish Experiment

276- The Finnish Experiment

Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as “unconditional basic income” or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no strings attached or special conditions, which would remove any potential stigma associated with receiving it. In short: it would be free money. There’s been a lot of recent excitement around the idea, especially after an experiment launched by the Finnish government started in early 2017. It has the public and the media wondering: how will recipients react to getting this unconditional source of income. The Finnish Experiment

19 September 2017


275- Coal Hogs Work Safe

275- Coal Hogs Work Safe

Coal miner stickers started out as little advertisements that the manufacturers of mining equipment handed out. Even before the late 1960s, when mining safety laws started requiring reflective materials underground, miners used those stickers to stay visible to each other in the dark mines. As time passed, the stickers evolved. They became more personal and started to tell miners’ stories. And the mine companies themselves started printing stickers for their workers. Stickers went from simple ads to signifying an identity. And as their role changed, stickers also came to serve as a kind of currency among miners. Coal Hogs Work Safe

12 September 2017


274- The Age of the Algorithm

274- The Age of the Algorithm

Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been created with good intentions. The goal is to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements. But it doesn’t always work out like that. “I don’t think mathematical models are inherently evil — I think it’s the way they’re used that are evil,” says mathematician Cathy O’Neil, author of the book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. She has studied number theory, worked as a data scientist at start-ups, and built predictive algorithms for various private enterprises. Through her work, she’s become critical about the influence of poorly-designed algorithms. The Age of the Algorithm

5 September 2017


273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque

273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque

Monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877. This week, we feature the story of an imagined plaque that could accompany this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nate DiMeo originally produced this story for his show The Memory Palace under the title: Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Council has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery. Notes on an Imagined Plaque

29 August 2017


272- Person in Lotus Position

272- Person in Lotus Position

Tech analysts estimate that over six billion emojis are sent each day. Emojis, which started off as a collection of low-resolution pixelated images from Japan, have become a well-established and graphically sophisticated part of everyday global communication. But who decides what emojis are available to users, and who makes the actual designs? Independent radio and film producer Mark Bramhill (Welcome to Macintosh) took it upon himself to find out and, in the process, ended up developing and pitching his own idea for a new emoji. Person in Lotus Position

22 August 2017


271- The Great Dismal Swamp

271- The Great Dismal Swamp

On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina. And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. It’s humid and soggy, filled with thorns and thickets, teeming with all sorts of dangerous and unpleasant wildlife. The panthers that used to live there are now gone, but even today there are black bears, poisonous snakes, and swarms of yellow flies and mosquitoes. Hundreds of years ago, before the Civil War, the dangers of the swamp and its seeming impenetrability actually attracted people to it. The land was so untamed that horses and boats couldn’t enter, and the colonists who were filing into the region detested it. William Byrd II, a Virginia planter, called it “a miserable morass where nothing can inhabit.” But people did inhabit the swamp, including thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans who escaped their captors and formed communities in the swamp. This “dismal” landscape was the site of one of the most remarkable and least told stories of resistance to slavery in American history. The Great Dismal Swamp

15 August 2017


270- The Stethoscope

270- The Stethoscope

Imagine for a moment the year 1800. A doctor is meeting with a patient – most likely in the patient’s home. The patient is complaining about shortness of breath. A cough, a fever. The doctor might check the patient’s pulse or feel their belly, but unlike today, what’s happening inside of the patient’s body is basically unknowable. There’s no MRI. No X-rays. The living body is like a black box that can’t be opened. The only way for a doctor to figure out what was wrong with a patient was to ask them, and as a result patients’ accounts of their symptoms were seen as diseases in themselves. While today a fever is seen as a symptom of some underlying disease like the flu, back then the fever was essentially regarded as the disease itself. But in the early 1800s, an invention came along that changed everything. Suddenly the doctor could clearly hear what was happening inside the body. The heart, the lungs, the breath. This revolutionary device was the stethoscope.

9 August 2017


269- Ways of Hearing

269- Ways of Hearing

When the tape started rolling in old analog recording studios, there was a feeling that musicians were about to capture a particular moment. On tape, there was no “undo.” They could try again, if they had the time and money, but they couldn’t move backwards. What’s done is done, for better and worse. Digital machines entered the mix in the 1980s, changing the way music was made — machines with a different sense of time. And the digital era has not just altered our tools for working with sound but also our relationship to time itself. Part of the new Radiotopia Showcase, Ways of Hearing is a six-episode series hosted by musician Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi), exploring the nature of listening in our digital world. Each episode looks at a different way that the switch from analog to digital audio is influencing our perceptions, changing our ideas of Time, Space, Love, Money, Power and Noise. In the digital age, our voices carry further than they ever did before, but how are they being heard? Plus, we have a little bonus, classic episode of 99pi, featuring Sound Opinions. Ways of Hearing

1 August 2017


268- El Gordo

268- El Gordo

In Spain, they do the lottery differently. First of all, it’s a country-wide obsession — about 75% of Spaniards buy a ticket. There’s more than one lottery in Spain, but the one that Spaniards are the most passionate about is … Continue reading →

25 July 2017


267- The Trials of Dan and Dave

267- The Trials of Dan and Dave

This is the story of an ad campaign produced for the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. Perennial runner-up in the sports shoe category, Reebok, was trying to make its mark and take down Nike. They chose two athletes, plucked them … Continue reading →

18 July 2017


266- Repackaging the Pill

266- Repackaging the Pill

Most people are familiar with at least one version of the birth control pill’s packaging — a round plastic disc which opens like a shell and looks like a makeup compact. But the pill wasn’t always packaged this way. The … Continue reading →

11 July 2017


265- The Pool and the Stream

265- The Pool and the Stream

This is the story of a curvy, kidney-shaped swimming pool born in Northern Europe that had a huge ripple effect on popular culture in Southern California and landscape architecture in Northern California, and then the world. A documentary in three … Continue reading →

4 July 2017


264- Mexico 68

264- Mexico 68

The 1968 Olympics took place in Mexico City, Mexico. It was the first games ever hosted in a Latin American country. And for Mexico City, the event was an opportunity to show the world that they were a metropolis as … Continue reading →

27 June 2017


263- You Should Do a Story

263- You Should Do a Story

“You should do a story…” is the first line to a lot of the conversations you have when you work at 99pi. This week we look into a bunch of those stories suggested by our listeners and present them to … Continue reading →

20 June 2017


262- In the Same Ballpark

262- In the Same Ballpark

In the 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their baseball season at a brand new stadium called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, right along the downtown harbor. The stadium was small and intimate, built with brick and iron trusses—a throwback to … Continue reading →

13 June 2017


Intro to a new Roman Mars podcast: What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

Intro to a new Roman Mars podcast: What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

Special introductory episode to a new podcast produced by Roman Mars and Elizabeth Joh. Professor Elizabeth Joh teaches Intro to Constitutional Law and most of the time this is a pretty straight forward job. But with Trump in office, everything … Continue reading →

8 June 2017


199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball (Repeat)

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball (Repeat)

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to … Continue reading →

7 June 2017


261- Squatters of the Lower East Side

261- Squatters of the Lower East Side

In 1987, three years after moving to New York City, Maggie Wrigley found herself on the edge of homelessness. She was trying to figure out where to stay, when she heard about an abandoned tenement building on the Lower East … Continue reading →

30 May 2017


260- New Jersey

260- New Jersey

The Brazilian soccer shirt is iconic. Its bright canary yellow with green trim, worn with blue shorts, is known worldwide. The uniform is joyful and bold and seems to capture something essential about Brazil. But it was not always this … Continue reading →

23 May 2017


259- This Is Chance: Anchorwoman of the Great Alaska Earthquake

259- This Is Chance: Anchorwoman of the Great Alaska Earthquake

This episode was recorded live as part of the Radiotopia West Coast Tour. It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had hit Anchorage, Alaska. 115 people died. Some … Continue reading →

16 May 2017


258- The Modern Necropolis

258- The Modern Necropolis

In the town of Colma, California, the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. Located just ten miles south of San Francisco, Colma is filled with rolling green hills, manicured hedges, and 17 full size cemeteries (18 if … Continue reading →

9 May 2017


257- Reversing the Grid

257- Reversing the Grid

For most people, electricity only flows one way (into the home), but there are exceptions — people who use solar panels, for instance. In those cases, excess electricity created by the solar cells travels back out into the grid to … Continue reading →

2 May 2017


256- Sounds Natural

256- Sounds Natural

In most wildlife films, the sounds you hear were not recorded while the cameras were rolling. Most filmmakers use long telephoto lenses to film animals, but there’s no sonic equivalent of a zoom lens. Good audio requires a microphone close … Continue reading →

18 April 2017


255- The Architect of Hollywood

255- The Architect of Hollywood

Los Angeles is rich with architectural diversity. On the same block, you could find a retro-futuristic Googie diner next to a Spanish-style mansion, sitting comfortably alongside a Dutch Colonial dwelling, all in close proximity to a Deconstructivist concert hall. In … Continue reading →

11 April 2017


254- Containers

254- Containers

We’re based in beautiful downtown Oakland, CA which is a port city in the San Francisco Bay. Massive container ships travel across the Pacific and end up here. From miles away you can see the enormous white cranes that pull … Continue reading →

4 April 2017


253- Manzanar

253- Manzanar

When Warren Furutani was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, he sometimes heard his parents refer to a place where they once spent time — a place they called “camp.” To him “camp” meant summer camp or a … Continue reading →

28 March 2017


252- The Falling of the Lenins

252- The Falling of the Lenins

On the night of December 8, 2013, a huge crowd gathered on a tree-lined boulevard in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. The crowd was there to watch as a statue in the boulevard was pulled down by a crane. The toppled statue … Continue reading →

21 March 2017


251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

Logos used to be a thing people didn’t really give much thought to. But over the last decade, the volume and intensity of arguments about logos have increased substantially. A lot of this is just the internet being the internet. … Continue reading →

14 March 2017


250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)

250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)

In the 1980s, the United States experienced a refugee crisis. Thousands of Central Americans were fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling north through Mexico, and crossing the border into the U.S. [Note: Just tuning in? Listen to … Continue reading →

8 March 2017


249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)

249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)

In the 1980s, Rev. John Fife and his congregation at Southside Presbyterian Church began to help Central American migrants fleeing persecution from US backed dictatorships. Their efforts would mark the beginning of a new — and controversial — social movement … Continue reading →

28 February 2017


248- Atom in the Garden of Eden

248- Atom in the Garden of Eden

As the world entered the Atomic Age, humankind faced a new fear that permeated just about every aspect of daily life: the threat of nuclear war. And while the violent applications of atomic research had already been proven, governments and … Continue reading →

21 February 2017


247- Usonia the Beautiful

247- Usonia the Beautiful

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the buildings we live in shape the kinds of people we become. His aim was nothing short of rebuilding the entire culture of the United States, changing the nation through its architecture. Central to that … Continue reading →

15 February 2017


246- Usonia 1

246- Usonia 1

Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This … Continue reading →

7 February 2017


245- The Eponymist

245- The Eponymist

Eponym (noun):  A person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named; a name or noun formed after a person. An eponym, almost by definition, has some kind of story behind it — some reason it … Continue reading →

1 February 2017


244- The Revolutionary Post

244- The Revolutionary Post

Winifred Gallagher, author of How the Post Office Created America: A History, argues that the post office is not simply an inexpensive way to send a letter. The service was designed to unite a bunch of disparate towns and people … Continue reading →

24 January 2017


243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

On January 3, 1979, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department went to the home of Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother. The police were there because of a dispute over an unpaid gas bill. The officers approached … Continue reading →

18 January 2017


242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2

242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2

Part 2 where host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can’t quite stretch into a full episode, but we love them … Continue reading →

10 January 2017


241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1

241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1

Host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can’t quite stretch into a full episode, but the staff loves them anyway. Roman talks … Continue reading →

20 December 2016


240- Plat of Zion

240- Plat of Zion

The urban grid of Salt Lake City, Utah is designed to tell you exactly where you are in relation to Temple Square, one of the holiest sites for Mormons. Addresses can read like sets of coordinates. “300 South 2100 East,” … Continue reading →

14 December 2016


239- Guano Island

239- Guano Island

In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time. The expansion closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining. … Continue reading →

6 December 2016


238- NBC Chimes

238- NBC Chimes

The NBC chimes may be the most famous sound in broadcasting. Originating in the 1920s, the three key sequential notes are familiar to generations of radio listeners and television watchers. Many companies have tried to trademark sounds but only around … Continue reading →

29 November 2016


237- Dollar Store Town

237- Dollar Store Town

Dollar stores are not just a U.S. phenomenon. They can be found in Australia and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Mexico. And a lot of the stuff—the generic cheap stuff for sale in these stores—comes from one place. … Continue reading →

23 November 2016


236- Reverb

236- Reverb

Through a combination of passive and active acoustics, architects and acousticians can control the sounds of spaces to fit any kind of need. With sound-proofing and selective-amplification, we can add reverb or take it away. We can make churches sound … Continue reading →

16 November 2016


235- Ten Letters for the President

235- Ten Letters for the President

People who write the White House know that the president himself will most likely not see their message. Many of their letters start with phrases like, “I know no one will read this.” Although someone does read those letters. And … Continue reading →

8 November 2016


234- The Shift

234- The Shift

Every now and again, a truly great athlete shatters all previous assumptions about what’s possible to achieve in a sport. When this happens, opposing teams scramble to find ways to stop them or slow them down. In basketball, teams tried … Continue reading →

1 November 2016


233- Space Trash, Space Treasure

233- Space Trash, Space Treasure

In the summer of 1961 the upper stage of the rocket carrying the Transit 4A satellite blew up about two hours after launch. It was the first known human-made object to unintentionally explode in space, and it created hundreds of … Continue reading →

25 October 2016


232- McMansion Hell

232- McMansion Hell

Few forms of contemporary architecture draw as much criticism as the McMansion, a particular type of oversized house that people love to hate. McMansions usually feature 3,000 or more square feet of space and fail to embody a cohesive style … Continue reading →

18 October 2016


231- Half a House

231- Half a House

On the night of February 27th, 2010, a magnitude of 8.8 earthquake hit Constitución, Chile and it was the second biggest that the world had seen in half a century. The quake and the tsunami it produced completely crushed the … Continue reading →

11 October 2016


230- Project Cybersyn

230- Project Cybersyn

On September 11, 1973, a military junta violently took control of Chile, which was led at the time by President Salvador Allende. Allende had become president in a free and democratic election. After the military coup, General Augusto Pinochet took … Continue reading →

4 October 2016


124- Longbox (Repeat)

124- Longbox (Repeat)

Reporter Whitney Jones argues that R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging. Longbox Please Vote.

27 September 2016


229- The Trend Forecast

229- The Trend Forecast

Who decides that the color this season is “mint green” or that denim jackets are “back?” Of course, there’s top-down fashion, where couture houses and runway shows set a trend that trickles down through the rest of the industry. Then … Continue reading →

20 September 2016


228- Making Up Ground

228- Making Up Ground

Large portions of San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Seattle, Hong Kong and Marseilles were built on top of human made land. What is now Mumbai, India, was transformed by the British from a seven-island archipelago to one contiguous strip … Continue reading →

13 September 2016


227- Public Works

227- Public Works

Infrastructure makes modern civilization possible. Roads, power grids, sewage systems and water networks all underpin society as we know it, forming the basis of our built environment … at least when they work. As Henry Petroski documents in The Road … Continue reading →

6 September 2016


226- On Average

226- On Average

In many ways, the built world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones – all these measurements are based around the concept of an … Continue reading →

23 August 2016


225- Photo Credit

225- Photo Credit

Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus school in Germany would go on to shape modern architecture, art, and design for decades to come. The school sought to combine design and industrialization, creating functional things that could be … Continue reading →

17 August 2016


224- A Sea Worth its Salt

224- A Sea Worth its Salt

The largest body of water in California was formed by a mistake. In 1905, the California Development Company accidentally flooded a huge depression in the Sonora Desert, creating an enormous salty lake called the Salton Sea. The water is about … Continue reading →

9 August 2016


223- The Magic Bureaucrat

223- The Magic Bureaucrat

In 1996, President Bill Clinton and the Congress undertook a reform effort to redesign the welfare system from one that many believed trapped people in a cycle of dependence, to one, that in the President’s words, would give people “a … Continue reading →

3 August 2016


222- Combat Hearing Loss

222- Combat Hearing Loss

The US military buys a lot of foam ear plugs. Visit any base and you’ll find them under the bleachers at the firing range, in the bottoms of washing machines. They are cheap and effective at making noise less … noisy. … Continue reading →

26 July 2016


221- America’s Last Top Model

221- America’s Last Top Model

In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a scale model that could test flooding in all 1.25 million square miles of the Mississippi River. It would be a three-dimensional map of nearly half of the continental United … Continue reading →

19 July 2016


220- The Mind of an Architect

220- The Mind of an Architect

In the late 1950s, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research embarked on a mission to study the personalities of particularly creative scientists and artists. Researchers established categories, grouping analytical creatives together (including scientists and mathematicians) as well as artistic … Continue reading →

13 July 2016


219- Unpleasant Design

219- Unpleasant Design

Benches in parks, train stations, bus shelters and other public places are meant to offer seating, but only for a limited duration. Many elements of such seats are subtly or overtly restrictive. Arm rests, for instance, indeed provide spaces to rest arms, but they … Continue reading →

6 July 2016


218- Remembering Stonewall

218- Remembering Stonewall

It started with a place called the Stonewall Inn. Gay bars had been raided by police for decades. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people had been routinely arrested and subjected to harassment and beatings by the people who were meant … Continue reading →

29 June 2016


217- Home on Lagrange

217- Home on Lagrange

In 1968, an Italian industrialist and a Scottish scientist started a club to address what they considered to be humankind’s greatest problems—issues like pollution, resource scarcity, and overpopulation. Meeting in Rome, Italy, the group came to be known as the … Continue reading →

22 June 2016


216- The Blazer Experiment

216- The Blazer Experiment

In 1968, the police department in Menlo Park, California hired a new police chief. His name was Victor Cizanckas and his main goal was to reform the department, which had a strained relationship with the community at the time. Cizanckas … Continue reading →

14 June 2016


215- H-Day

215- H-Day

September 3rd, 1967, also known as H-Day, is etched in the collective memory of Sweden. That morning, millions of Swedes switched from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. The changeover was an unprecedented … Continue reading →

7 June 2016


130- Holdout (Repeat)

130- Holdout (Repeat)

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered a … Continue reading →

31 May 2016


214- Loud and Clear

214- Loud and Clear

Sub Pop Records has signed some of the most famous and influential indie bands of the last 30 years, including Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, The Postal Service, and Beach House. Over time, the stars and hits have changed and the formats have … Continue reading →

25 May 2016


213- Separation Anxiety

213- Separation Anxiety

“Für Elise” is one of the world’s most widely-recognized pieces of music. The Beethoven melody has been played by pianists the world over, and its near-universal recognition has been used to attract customers for companies as big as McDonald’s  and as small as your … Continue reading →

18 May 2016


212- Turf Wars of East New York

212- Turf Wars of East New York

Neighborhoods are constantly changing, but it tends to be the people with money and power who get to decide the shape of things to come. New York City has an especially long history with change driven by landlords and real … Continue reading →

11 May 2016


211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street

211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street

The Bellevue-Stratford opened in 1904 and quickly became one of the most luxurious hotels of its time, rivaling the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The building was an incredible work of French Renaissance architecture. It was 19 stories high, had over a thousand … Continue reading →

4 May 2016


210- Unseen City

210- Unseen City

Humans form cities from concrete, metal, and glass, designing structures and infrastructure primarily to serve a single bipedal species. Walking down a familiar city street, it is easy to overlook squirrels climbing in trees, weeds growing up through cracks in … Continue reading →

27 April 2016


209- Supertall 101

209- Supertall 101

Starting in the late 1990s, the government of Taipei began looking into how they could turn global attention to their city, the capital of the small island of Taiwan. The initial idea was to create two 66-story office towers, which … Continue reading →

20 April 2016


208- Vox Ex Machina

208- Vox Ex Machina

In 1939, an astonishing new machine debuted at the New York World’s Fair. It was called the “Voder,” short for “Voice Operating Demonstrator.” It looked sort of like a futuristic church organ. An operator — known as a “Voderette” — … Continue reading →

13 April 2016


207- Soul City

207- Soul City

In the late 1960s, a civil rights leader named Floyd B. McKissick, at one time the head of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) proposed an idea for a new town.  He would call this town Soul City and it would be … Continue reading →

6 April 2016


206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv

206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv

Israeli buses regularly make international headlines, be it for suicide bombings, fights over gender segregation, or clashes concerning Shabbat schedules. One particular ill-fated megastructure, however, has been at the nexus of various lesser-publicized conflicts: a building in Tel Aviv designed … Continue reading →

30 March 2016


205- Flying Food

205- Flying Food

The last hundred years or so of food advertising have been shaped by this one simple fact: real food usually looks pretty unappetizing on camera. It’s static and boring to look at, and it tends to wilt under the glare … Continue reading →

23 March 2016


204- The SoHo Effect

204- The SoHo Effect

In San Francisco, the area South of Market Street is called SoMa. The part of town North of the Panhandle is known as NoPa. Around the intersection of North Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville, real estate brokers are pitching properties as part … Continue reading →

16 March 2016


203- The Giftschrank

203- The Giftschrank

Centuries ago, Germany came up with a way to keep books that contained “dangerous” information without releasing them to the general public: The Giftschrank. The word, a combination of “poison” and “cabinet,” has a variety of meanings in different contexts. … Continue reading →

9 March 2016


202- Mojave Phone Booth

202- Mojave Phone Booth

Situated in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, a lone phone booth sat along a dirt road, just waiting to become an international sensation. Mojave Phone Booth 760-733-9969 The piece was produced by … Continue reading →

2 March 2016


Video- The Norman Door with Vox

Video- The Norman Door with Vox

There is an epidemic of terrible doors in the world. But when Don Norman got frustrated with them, he ended up changing the way people everywhere think about design. Video by Joe Posner of Vox, featuring Roman Mars of 99% … Continue reading →

27 February 2016


201- The Green Book

201- The Green Book

The middle of the 20th Century was a golden age for road travel in the United States. Cars had become cheap and spacious enough to carry families comfortably for hundreds of miles. The Interstate Highway System had started to connect … Continue reading →

24 February 2016


200- Miss Manhattan

200- Miss Manhattan

All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She has gone by many names, from Star Maiden to Priestess of Culture, Spirit of Life to … Continue reading →

17 February 2016


199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to come. The … Continue reading →

10 February 2016


198- The Ice King

198- The Ice King

In the mid-19th century, decades before home refrigeration became the norm, you could find ice clinking in glasses from India to the Caribbean, thanks to a global commodities industry that has since melted into obscurity: the frozen water trade. In … Continue reading →

3 February 2016


197- Fish Cannon

197- Fish Cannon

The Iron Curtain was an 8,000-mile border separating East from West during the Cold War. Something unexpected evolved in the “no man’s land” that the massive border created. In the absence of human intervention and disruption, an accidental wildlife refuge … Continue reading →

27 January 2016


196- The Fresno Drop

196- The Fresno Drop

In September 1958, Bank of America began an experiment – one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and on the economy. They decided after careful consideration to conduct this experiment in Fresno, California. The presumption was that … Continue reading →

20 January 2016


195- Best Enjoyed By

195- Best Enjoyed By

Date labels (e.g. “use-by”, “sell-by”, “best-by”, “best if used by,” “expires on”, etc.) are on a lot of products. Forty-one states require a date label on at least some food product, but there are huge inconsistencies, not just in the … Continue reading →

13 January 2016


194- Bone Music

194- Bone Music

In 1950s Soviet Russia, citizens craved Western popular music—everything from jazz to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and acquiring the scarce material to make copies of those records that did make it into the country was expensive. … Continue reading →

22 December 2015


193- Tube Benders

193- Tube Benders

The skyline of beautiful downtown Oakland, California, is defined by various towers by day, but at night there is one that shines far more brightly than the rest: the neon-illuminated Tribune Tower. Each side of the tower says “Tribune” in … Continue reading →

16 December 2015


192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates

192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates

For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for those just arriving from China, the … Continue reading →

8 December 2015


191- Worst Smell in the World

191- Worst Smell in the World

Many material trifles, such as Silly Putty, started as attempts at serious inventions, but in rare cases, the process works in reverse: something developed as a gag gift can turn into something truly heroic. Invented by high school prankster Alan … Continue reading →

2 December 2015


190- Fixing the Hobo Suit

190- Fixing the Hobo Suit

Superhero costumes for TV and film used to be pretty cringe-worthy. Lately, however, super outfits are looking much better. Costume designers are learning new tricks, and using better technology, but there has also been a change in attitude. They are … Continue reading →

24 November 2015


189- The Landlord’s Game

189- The Landlord’s Game

From rock-paper-scissors, to tennis, to Mario Kart, every game is a designed system and all games are grounded in the same design principles. One popular game in particular has a mixed reputation with game players and designers alike: Monopoly. The … Continue reading →

18 November 2015


188- Fountain Drinks

188- Fountain Drinks

On April 21st, 1859, an incredible thing happened in London and thousands of people came out to celebrate it. Women wore their finest clothing. Men were in suits and top hats, and children clamored to get a glimpse…of the very … Continue reading →

10 November 2015


187- Butterfly Effects

187- Butterfly Effects

Ballots are an essential component to a working democracy, yet they are rarely created (or even reviewed) by design professionals. Good ballot design is mainly a matter of following good design principles in general—familiar territory for graphic designers, but not … Continue reading →

4 November 2015


186- War and Pizza

186- War and Pizza

Households tend to take pantry food for granted, but canned beans, powered cheese, and bags of moist cookies were not designed for everyday convenience. These standard products were made to meet the needs of the military. Reporter Tina Antolini, host … Continue reading →

28 October 2015


185- Atmospherians

185- Atmospherians

The phrase ‘from Central Casting’ has become a kind of cultural shorthand for a stereotype or archetype, a subject so visually suited to its part it appears to have been designed for that role. Search the news for ‘straight out … Continue reading →

20 October 2015


110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)

110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)

99% Invisible is honored to accept a 2015 Third Coast International Audio Festival award for Structural Integrity, a story of architectural engineering gone wrong, and then covertly made right. When it was built in 1977, the 59-story CitiCorp Center had … Continue reading →

14 October 2015


184- Rajneeshpuram

184- Rajneeshpuram

Indian philosopher and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a vision: he would build a Utopian city from the ground up, starting with 64,000 acres of muddy ranchland in rural Oregon. Purchased in 1981, this expanse was to become both a … Continue reading →

7 October 2015


183- Dead Letter Office

183- Dead Letter Office

When something is lost in the mail, it feels like it has disappeared into the ether, like it was sucked into a black hole, like it no longer exists. But, it turns out, a lot of the mail we think … Continue reading →

30 September 2015


182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

On the night of March 30, 2005, the Powerball jackpot was 25 million dollars. The grand prize winner was in Tennessee, but all over the United States, one hundred and ten second-place winners came forward. Normally just three or four … Continue reading →

23 September 2015


181- Milk Carton Kids

181- Milk Carton Kids

On a Sunday morning in 1982, in Des Moines, Iowa, Johnny Gosch left his house to begin his usual paper route. A short time later, his parents were awakened by a phone call–it was a neighbor—their paper hadn’t come. When … Continue reading →

15 September 2015


180- Reefer Madness

180- Reefer Madness

There are around 6,000 cargo vessels out on the ocean right now, carrying 20,000,000 shipping containers, which are delivering most of the products you see around you. And among all the containers are a special subset of temperature-controlled units known … Continue reading →

9 September 2015


179- Bathysphere

179- Bathysphere

In 1860, a chance find at sea forever changed our understanding of marine habitats, sparking an unprecedented push to explore a new world of possibilities far below the surface of our planet’s oceans. Deep sea life, previously thought possible down … Continue reading →

2 September 2015


178- The Great Restoration

178- The Great Restoration

Stirling, Scotland is the home of Stirling Castle, which sits atop a giant crag, or hill, overlooking the whole town of Stirling. There has been a castle on that hill since the 12th century at least, and maybe before, but … Continue reading →

26 August 2015


177- Lawn Order

177- Lawn Order

In communities across America, lawns that are brown or overgrown are considered especially heinous. Elite squads of dedicated individuals have been deputized by their local governments or homeowners’ associations to take action against those whose lawns fail to meet community … Continue reading →

19 August 2015


176- Hard to Love a Brute

176- Hard to Love a Brute

No matter which James Bond actor is your favorite, it’s undeniable that the Sean Connery films had the best villains. There’s Blofeld, who turned cat-stroking into a thing that super-villains do, and then there’s Goldfinger—Bond’s flashiest nemesis. Fun fact: the … Continue reading →

12 August 2015


175- The Sunshine Hotel

175- The Sunshine Hotel

The Bowery, in lower Manhattan, is one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s been through a lot of iterations. In the 1650s, a handful of freed slaves were the neighborhood’s first residents. At the time, New York was still a … Continue reading →

5 August 2015


174- From the Sea, Freedom

174- From the Sea, Freedom

In 1933, delegates from the United States and fourteen other countries met in Montevideo, Uruguay to define what it means to be a state. The resulting treaty from the Montevideo Convention established four basic criteria for statehood—essentially, what is required … Continue reading →

29 July 2015


173- Awareness

173- Awareness

By the late 1980s, AIDS had been in the United States for almost a decade. AIDS had be the number one killer of young men in New York City, then of young men in the country, then of young men … Continue reading →

22 July 2015


172- On Location

172- On Location

So many classic movies have been made in downtown Los Angeles. Though many don’t actually take place in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. has played almost every city in the world, thanks to its diverse landscape and architectural variety, but particular … Continue reading →

15 July 2015


171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)

171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)

More than 90% of all automobile accidents are all attributable to human error, for some car industry people, a fully-automated car is a kind of holy grail. However, as automation makes our lives easier and safer, it also creates more … Continue reading →

1 July 2015


170- Children of the Magenta (Automation Paradox, pt. 1)

170- Children of the Magenta (Automation Paradox, pt. 1)

On the evening of May 31, 2009, 216 passengers, three pilots, and nine flight attendants boarded an Airbus 330 in Rio de Janeiro. This flight, Air France 447, was headed across to Paris. Everything proceeded normally for several hours. Then, with no … Continue reading →

24 June 2015


169- Freud’s Couch

169- Freud’s Couch

Sigmund Freud’s ground-breaking techniques and theories for therapy came to be called “psychoanalysis,” and it was embodied, in practice and popular culture, by a single piece of furniture: the couch. Producer Ann Hepperman explores the role of this canonical object in … Continue reading →

17 June 2015


168- All In Your Head

168- All In Your Head

People who make horror movies know: if you want to scare someone, use scary music. Some of the most creative use of music and sound to evoke fear and anxiety is on the TV show Hannibal. Hrishikesh Hirway of Song … Continue reading →

10 June 2015


167- Voices in the Wire

167- Voices in the Wire

This week on 99% Invisible, we have two stories about the early days of broadcasting and home sound recording, produced by Radio Diaries and the Kitchen Sisters. The sounds that came out Frank Conrad’s Garage in 1919 and 1920 are … Continue reading →

3 June 2015


166- Viva La Arquitectura!

166- Viva La Arquitectura!

On January 3rd, 1961, Che Guevara suggested to Fidel Castro that they go play a round of golf. They drove out to what was then the ritziest, most elite country club in Havana. It was empty—almost all the members had … Continue reading →

27 May 2015


165- The Nutshell Studies

165- The Nutshell Studies

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Maryland is a busy place. Anyone who dies unexpectedly in the state of Maryland will end up there for an autopsy. On an average day, they might perform twelve autopsies; on … Continue reading →

20 May 2015


164- The Post-Billiards Age

164- The Post-Billiards Age

We live in a post-billiards age. There was an age of billiards, and it has been over for so long, most of us have no idea how huge billiards once was. For many decades, starting in the mid-19th Century, billiards … Continue reading →

13 May 2015


163- The Gruen Effect

163- The Gruen Effect

Retail spaces are designed for impulse shopping. When you go to a store looking for socks and come out with a new shirt, it’s only partly your fault.  Shops are trying to look so beautiful, so welcoming, the items so enticingly displayed and … Continue reading →

6 May 2015


162- Mystery House

162- Mystery House

According to legend, Sarah Winchester’s friends advised the grieving widow to seek the services of a Boston spiritual medium named Adam Koombs. The story goes, Koombs put Mrs. Winchester in touch with her deceased husband—but William had bad news. He told … Continue reading →

28 April 2015


161- Show of Force

161- Show of Force

During World War II, a massive recruitment effort targeted students from the top art schools across the country. These young designers, artists, and makers were being asked to help execute a wild idea that came out of one the nation’s most conservative organizations: the United … Continue reading →

22 April 2015


160- Perfect Security

160- Perfect Security

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put … Continue reading →

15 April 2015


159- The Calendar

159- The Calendar

A month is hardly a unit of measurement. It can start on any day of the week and last anywhere from 28 to 31 days. Sometimes a month is four weeks long, sometimes five, sometimes six. You have to buy … Continue reading →

8 April 2015


158- Sandhogs

158- Sandhogs

Eighty years ago, New York City needed another tunnel under the Hudson River. The Holland Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge could no longer handle the mounting traffic between New Jersey and Manhattan. Thus began construction of the Lincoln Tunnel. But this is not a … Continue reading →

31 March 2015


54- The Colour of Money (R)

54- The Colour of Money (R)

United States paper currency is so ubiquitous that to really look at its graphic design with fresh eyes requires some deliberate and focused attention. Pull a greenback out from your wallet (or look at a picture online) and really take … Continue reading →

25 March 2015


157- Devil’s Rope

157- Devil’s Rope

In the mid 1800s, not many (non-native) Americans had ever been west of the Mississippi. When Frederick Law Olmstead visited the west in the 1850s, he remarked that the plains looked like a sea of grasses that moved  “in swells after … Continue reading →

18 March 2015


156- Coin Check

156- Coin Check

The United States Military is not known for being touchy-feely. There’s not much hugging or head-patting, and superiors don’t always have the authority to offer a serviceman a raise or promotion. When a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast … Continue reading →

11 March 2015


155- Palm Reading

155- Palm Reading

Reports of palm theft have appeared in LA, San Diego, and Texas; palm rustling also gets a mention in Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. To understand why someone would want to steal a palm tree, we need to understand their value—which has a lot to do … Continue reading →

4 March 2015


154- PDX Carpet

154- PDX Carpet

Portlanders have a tradition when visiting their airport: taking a picture of their feet. It’s not to show off their shoes, but rather, what’s under them. They are documenting the famous PDX airport carpet. Julie Sabatier from Rendered has the … Continue reading →

24 February 2015


153- Game Over (R)

153- Game Over (R)

A few months before the end of the world, everyone was saying their goodbyes. The world that was ending was The Sims Online, an online version of The Sims. Even though The Sims was one of the most popular computer … Continue reading →

18 February 2015


152- Guerrilla Public Service

152- Guerrilla Public Service

At some point in your life you’ve probably encountered a problem in the built world where the fix was obvious to you. Maybe a door that opened the wrong way, or poorly painted marker on the road. Mostly, when we … Continue reading →

11 February 2015


151- La Mascotte

151- La Mascotte

The idea of the mascot came to America by way of a popular French opera from the 1880s called La Mascotte. The opera is about a down-on-his luck farmer who’s visited by a girl named Bettina; as soon as she … Continue reading →

3 February 2015


150- Under The Moonlight

150- Under The Moonlight

In 1885, Austin, Texas was terrorized by a serial killer known as the Servant Girl Annihilator.  The murderer was never actually found, but he claimed eight victims, mostly black servant girls, all attacked in the dark of night. The very, very dark night of Austin in 1885. After … Continue reading →

28 January 2015


149- Of Mice And Men

149- Of Mice And Men

If you are looking at a computer screen, your right hand is probably resting on a mouse. To the left of that mouse (or above, if you’re on a laptop) is your keyboard. As you work on the computer, your right hand … Continue reading →

21 January 2015


148- The Sizzle

148- The Sizzle

The first trademark for a sound in the United States was issued in 1978 to NBC for their chimes. MGM has a sound trademark for their roaring lion, as does 20th Century Fox for their trumpet fanfare. Harley Davidson tried to trademark the sound … Continue reading →

14 January 2015


147- Penn Station Sucks

147- Penn Station Sucks

New Yorkers are known to disagree about a lot of things. Who’s got the best pizza? What’s the fastest subway route? Yankees or Mets? But all 8.5 million New Yorkers are likely to agree on one thing: Penn Station sucks. … Continue reading →

7 January 2015


146- Mooallempalooza

146- Mooallempalooza

As you probably know, 99% Invisible is a show about the built world, about things manufactured by humans. We don’t tend to do stories about animals or nature. But our friend Jon Mooallem writes brilliant stories about the weird interactions between animals and humans, interactions that … Continue reading →

31 December 2014


145- Octothorpe

145- Octothorpe

If you want to follow conversation threads relating to this show on social media—whether Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, Tumblr—you know to look for the hashtag: #99pi. In our current digital age, the hashtag identifies movements, events, happenings, brands—topics of all … Continue reading →

17 December 2014


144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Hanging in the garage of Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California, there’s a small, pear-shaped light bulb. It is glowing right now. This lightbulb has been glowing, with just a couple of momentary interruptions, for 113 years. You can see … Continue reading →

10 December 2014


143- Inflatable Men

143- Inflatable Men

You see them on street corners, at gas stations, at shopping malls. You see them at blowout sales and grand openings of all kinds. Their wacky faces hover over us, and then fall down to meet us, and then rise … Continue reading →

3 December 2014


142- And The Winner Is

142- And The Winner Is

There’s a little trophy shop called Aardvark Laser Engraving  down the street from our office in Oakland. Its small but bustling, and its windows are stuffed to the brim with awards made of all kinds of materials and in any … Continue reading →

26 November 2014


141- Three Records from Sundown

141- Three Records from Sundown

This week on the show we’re presenting one of our favorite radio features, “Three Records from Sundown,” about singer Nick Drake. The documentary, by producer Charles Maynes, retraces the roots of Drake’s legend through interviews with Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd. Boyd … Continue reading →

19 November 2014


140- Vexillonaire

140- Vexillonaire

Vexillologists—those who study flags—tend to fall into one of two schools of thought. The first is one that focuses on history, category, and usage, and maintains that vexillologists should be scholars and historians of all flags, regardless of their designs. … Continue reading →

12 November 2014


139- Edge of Your Seat

139- Edge of Your Seat

“A Chair is a difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” — Mies van der Rohe. The chair presents an interesting design challenge, because it is an object that disappears when in use. The person replaces the chair. So chairs need to … Continue reading →

4 November 2014


138- O-U-I-J-A

138- O-U-I-J-A

The Ouija board is so simple and iconic that it looks like it comes from another time, or maybe another realm. The game is not as ancient as it was designed to look, but those two arched rows of letters have … Continue reading →

28 October 2014


137- Good Bread

137- Good Bread

The first print advertisement for Wonder Bread came out before the bread itself. It stated only that “a wonder” was coming. In a lot of ways, the statement was true. Wonder Bread was the perfect loaf.  “Slow food” advocates have pronounced industrial … Continue reading →

22 October 2014


Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution

Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution

When you support Radiotopia, you are making sure 99% Invisible can keep coming to you weekly and you’ll be supporting our entire collective of award-winning, independent radiomakers. Thanks!

19 October 2014


136- Lights Out

136- Lights Out

On July 13th, 1977, lightning struck an electricity transmission line in New York City, causing the line’s automatic circuit breaker to kick in. The electricity from the affected line was diverted to another line. This was fairly normal and everything … Continue reading →

14 October 2014


135- For Amusement Only

135- For Amusement Only

Everyone has tried it at some point. The authorities started turning a blind eye years ago, but it wasn’t officially legalized until the summer of 2014. Finally, after more than 80 years of illegitimacy, the City of Oakland has legalized…pinball … Continue reading →

7 October 2014


134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line

134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line

Straight lines form the core of our built environment. Building in straight lines makes predicting costs and calculating structural loads easier, since building materials come in linear units. Straight lines might be logical, predictable, and efficient, but they are also … Continue reading →

30 September 2014


133- Port of Dallas

133- Port of Dallas

There’s a photograph we have tacked to our studio at 99% Invisible HQ. The photo, taken 1899, shows three men, all looking very fashionable, suspended mid-air on the lifted arm of a giant dredging machine. There are plenty of images … Continue reading →

24 September 2014


132- Castle on the Park

132- Castle on the Park

On the southwest corner of Central Park West and 106th Street in New York City, there’s an enormous castle. It takes up the whole east end of the block, with its red brick cylindrical turrets topped with gleaming silver cones. … Continue reading →

16 September 2014


131- Genesis Object

131- Genesis Object

In the beginning, there was design. Before any other human discipline, even before the dawn of mankind its self, design was a practice passed down from generation to generation of early humans. Today, everything that has been designed–space ships, buildings, … Continue reading →

10 September 2014


130- Holdout

130- Holdout

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered a … Continue reading →

2 September 2014


129- Thomassons

129- Thomassons

Cities, like living things, evolve slowly over time. Buildings and structures get added and renovated and removed, and in this process, bits and pieces that get left behind. Vestiges. Just as humans have tailbones and whales have pelvic bones, cities … Continue reading →

26 August 2014


128- Hacking IKEA

128- Hacking IKEA

IKEA hacking is the practice of buying things from IKEA and reengineering—or “hacking”—them to become customized, more functional, and often just better designed stuff. The locus of the IKEA hacking movement is a website called IKEAhackers.net. It’s a showcase for … Continue reading →

19 August 2014


127- The Sound of Sports

127- The Sound of Sports

Way back in October 2011 (see episode #38, true believers!), we broadcast a short excerpt of a radio documentary produced by Peregrine Andrews about faking the sounds of sports on TV broadcasts. It was one of our most popular and provocative programs … Continue reading →

12 August 2014


126- Walk This Way

126- Walk This Way

As humans have developed cities and built environments, we have also needed to develop ways to find our way through them. Sam Greenspan went on a wayfinding tour with Jim Harding in the Atlanta airport. Harding is one of the … Continue reading →

5 August 2014


125- Duplitecture

125- Duplitecture

The best knock-offs in the world are in China. There are plenty of fake designer handbags and Rolexes, but China’s knock-offs go way beyond fashion. There are knock-off Apple stores that look so much like the real thing, some employees … Continue reading →

29 July 2014


124- Longbox

124- Longbox

Reporter Whitney Jones argues that R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging.

22 July 2014


123- Snowflake

123- Snowflake

Well before the early 1500s, when Sir Thomas Moore first coined the term “Utopia,” people have been thinking about how to design their ideal community. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t use money, or one that drops traditional family structures and … Continue reading →

15 July 2014


122- Good Egress

122- Good Egress

When designing a commercial structure, there is one safety component that must be designed right into the building from the start: egress. “Egress” refers to an entire exit system from a building: stairs, corridors, and evacuation routes outside the building. Each state’s building … Continue reading →

8 July 2014


121- Cold War Kids

121- Cold War Kids

During the 1961 Berlin Crisis—one of the various moments in the cold war in which we came frighteningly close to engaging in actual war with the Soviets—President John F. Kennedy vowed to identify spaces in “existing structures both public and … Continue reading →

1 July 2014


120- Skyjacking

120- Skyjacking

The term “hijacking” goes back to prohibition days, when gangsters would rob moonshine trucks saying, “Hold your hands high, Jack!” However, in the early days of commercial air travel, the idea that someone would hijack a plane was scarcely even … Continue reading →

24 June 2014


119- Feet of Engineering

119- Feet of Engineering

As a fashion object and symbol, the high heel shoe is weighted with meaning. It’s also weighted with the wearer’s entire body weight. The stiletto might be one of the only designs that is physically painful but has somehow has … Continue reading →

17 June 2014


118- Song Exploder

118- Song Exploder

99% Invisible presents Song Exploder. A song is a product of design. It’s difficult to create an original melody, but that’s only the blueprint. Every element of a piece of music could be produced any number of ways, depending on which … Continue reading →

10 June 2014


117- Clean Trains

117- Clean Trains

In just about every movie set in New York City in the 1970s and 80s there’s an establishing shot with a graffiti-covered subway. For city officials, train graffiti was a sign that they had lost control. So, starting in the … Continue reading →

3 June 2014


116- Breaking the Bank

116- Breaking the Bank

When I go into a bank, especially if I have to stand in line waiting to make a deposit, my mind wanders. And one of the first place it wanders to is: how I would rob the place. How could … Continue reading →

27 May 2014


115- Cow Tunnels

115- Cow Tunnels

The westernmost part of Manhattan, between 34th and 39th street, is pretty industrial. There’s a bus depot, a ferry terminal, and a steady stream of cars. But in the late 19th early 20th centuries, this was cow country. Cows used … Continue reading →

20 May 2014


114- Ten Thousand Years

114- Ten Thousand Years

In 1990, the federal government invited a group of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers to the New Mexico desert, to visit the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. They were there on a mission. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) … Continue reading →

13 May 2014


113- Monumental Dilemma

113- Monumental Dilemma

About ten miles north of Concord, New Hampshire, off of interstate 93 there’s a little island with a great, big monument on it. The monument depicts a woman, who is holding a hatchet in her right hand and bunch of … Continue reading →

6 May 2014


112- Young Ruin

112- Young Ruin

If you’ve wandered around Machu Picchu, or Stonehenge, or the Colosseum, or even snuck into that abandoned house on the edge of town, you know the power in a piece of decrepit architecture. And even if you don’t want to … Continue reading →

29 April 2014


111- Masters of the Uni-verse

111- Masters of the Uni-verse

Uniforms matter. When it comes to sports, they might be the only thing to which we’re actually loyal. Sports uniforms are packaging. But unlike any other packaging, if the product inside changes or degrades, we remain loyal. Players come and … Continue reading →

22 April 2014


110- Structural Integrity

110- Structural Integrity

When it was built in 1977, Citicorp Center (later renamed Citigroup Center, now called 601 Lexington) was, at 59 stories, the seventh-tallest building in the world. You can pick it out of the New York City skyline by its 45-degree … Continue reading →

15 April 2014


109- Title TK

109- Title TK

The name is important. It’s the first thing of any product you use or buy or see. The tip of the spear. You are bombarded by thousands of names every day. In this daily barrage, only the names that are … Continue reading →

8 April 2014


108- Barcodes

108- Barcodes

When George Laurer goes to the grocery store, he doesn’t tell the check-out people that he invented the barcode, but his wife used to point it out. “My husband here’s the one who invented that barcode,” she’d occasionally say. And … Continue reading →

1 April 2014


107- Call Now

107- Call Now

When it’s three o’clock in the morning and everything is going wrong in your life, there’s a certain kind of ad you might see on basic cable. Lawyers–usually guys–promise to battle the heartless, tight-wad insurance companies on your behalf. There’s … Continue reading →

25 March 2014


106- The Fancy Shape

106- The Fancy Shape

Quatrefoil is the name of the four-lobed cloverleaf shape. It’s everywhere: adorning Gothic cathedrals, more modern churches, Rhode Island mansions, mission-style roofs in California, and decorating victorian homes from coast to coast. It’s embroidered on bedding, plastered on wallpaper, and … Continue reading →

18 March 2014


105- One Man is An Island

105- One Man is An Island

A few years ago, reporter Sean Cole was working on a radio story and needed to interview the rapper Busta Rhymes. Sean was living in Boston at the time, so he did a Google search for “Busta Rhymes” and “Boston” to see … Continue reading →

11 March 2014


104- Tunnel 57

104- Tunnel 57

At its peak, the Berlin Wall was 100 miles long. Today only about a mile is left standing. Compared with other famous walls in history, this wall had a pretty short life span. The Great Wall of China has been … Continue reading →

5 March 2014


103- UTBAPH

103- UTBAPH

It started with some Pittsburgh humor. Pittsburgh-based comedian Tom Muisal does a bit about a GPS unit that can give directions in “Pittsburghese.” Because in Pittsburgh, no one calls it “Interstate 376,” it’s “The Parkway.” It’s not “The Liberty Tunnel,” … Continue reading →

25 February 2014


102- Icon for Access

102- Icon for Access

There is a beauty to a universal standard. The idea that people across the world can agree that when they interact with one specific thing, everyone will be on the same page– regardless of language or culture or geographic locale. … Continue reading →

18 February 2014


101- Cover Story

101- Cover Story

You know the saying: you can’t judge a book by its cover. With magazines, it’s pretty much the opposite. The cover of a magazine is the unified identity for a whole host of ideas, authors, and designers who have created … Continue reading →

11 February 2014


100- Higher And Higher

100- Higher And Higher

Like the best of these stories, the two bitter rivals started out as best friends: William Van Alen and Craig Severance. They were business partners. Van Alen was considered the artistic maverick and Severance was the savvy businessman. It’s unclear … Continue reading →

4 February 2014


99- The View From The 79th Floor

99- The View From The 79th Floor

On July 28, 1945, an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. A B-25 bomber was flying a routine mission, chartering servicemen from Massachusetts to New York City. Capt. William F. Smith, who had led some of the most dangerous … Continue reading →

15 January 2014


98- Six Stories- the memory palace

98- Six Stories- the memory palace

Elevators are old. They would have to be. Because it is in our nature to rise. History is full of things that lift other things. In ancient Greece, and China, and Hungary, there were systems of weights and pulleys and … Continue reading →

3 January 2014


97- Numbers Stations

97- Numbers Stations

If you tune around on a shortwave radio, you might stumble across a voice reciting an endless stream of numbers. Just numbers, all day, everyday. These so-called “numbers stations,” say nothing about where they are transmitting from or who they … Continue reading →

20 December 2013


96- DIY Space Suit

96- DIY Space Suit

Cameron Smith is building a space suit in his apartment. He’s not an astronaut. He’s not even an engineer. Cameron Smith is an archaeologist–on faculty in the anthropology department at Portland State University in Oregon. But Cameron is an explorer … Continue reading →

3 December 2013


95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue

95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue

We have seen the future, and the future is mostly blue. Or, put another way: in our representations of the future in science fiction movies, blue seems to be the dominant color of our interfaces with technology yet to come. … Continue reading →

21 November 2013


94- Unbuilt

94- Unbuilt

There is an allure in unbuilt structures: the utopian, futuristic transports, the impossibly tall skyscrapers, even the horrible highways, all capture our imagination with what could have been. Whether these never built structures are perceived as good or bad, they … Continue reading →

13 November 2013


93- Revolving Doors

93- Revolving Doors

The story goes like this: Theophilus Van Kannel hated chivalry. There was nothing he despised more than trying to walk in or out of a building, and locking horns with other men in a game of “oh you first, I … Continue reading →

6 November 2013


92- All the Buildings

92- All the Buildings

I love those moments when you’re walking in your neighborhood and suddenly nothing is familiar. In a good way. Sean Cole began seeing his neighborhood, actually the whole city of New York, with new eyes because of one artist who … Continue reading →

29 October 2013


Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes

Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes

99% Invisible started as a side project I made in my bedroom at night, and after two years of making the program, I turned to Kickstarter to see if I should keep it going. To my great surprise, the Season … Continue reading →

23 October 2013


91- Wild Ones Live

91- Wild Ones Live

We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible: No cardinals. Meaning, we deal with the built world, not the natural world. So, when I read Jon Mooallem’s brilliant book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at … Continue reading →

14 October 2013


90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux

90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux

If you are an undertaker in 1878 Kansas City, and you learn that your competitor’s wife works as a telephone switchboard operator and has been diverting business calls meant for you to her husband, you have a few potential courses … Continue reading →

2 October 2013


89- Bubble Houses

89- Bubble Houses

If you were a movie star in the market for a mansion in 1930s Los Angeles, there was a good chance you might call on Wallace Neff. Neff wasn’t just an architect–he was a starchitect. One of his most famous … Continue reading →

17 September 2013


88- The Broadcast Clock

88- The Broadcast Clock

There’s a term that epitomizes what we radio producers aspire to create: the “driveway moment.” It’s when a story is so good that you literally can’t get out of your car. Inside of a driveway moment, time becomes elastic–you could … Continue reading →

3 September 2013


87- I Heart NY, TM

87- I Heart NY, TM

By now, the story is well known. A man sits in the backseat of a cab, sketching on a notepad as night falls over a crumbling city. He scribbles the letter I. He draws a heart. And then an N, … Continue reading →

22 August 2013


86- Reversal of Fortune

86- Reversal of Fortune

Chicago’s biggest design achievement probably isn’t one of its amazing skyscrapers, but the Chicago River, a waterway disguised as a remnant of the natural landscape. But it isn’t natural, not really. It’s hard to tell when you see the river, … Continue reading →

9 August 2013


85- Noble Effort

85- Noble Effort

If you grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons, you might remember seeing the name Chuck Jones in big letters in the opening credits. Chuck Jones directed cartoons like Looney Tunes from the 1930s until his death in 2002. He was … Continue reading →

29 July 2013


84- Ode to Ladislav Sutnar plus Trading Places with Planet Money

84- Ode to Ladislav Sutnar plus Trading Places with Planet Money

An ode to an information designer who made life a little bit easier for millions and millions of people: Ladislav Sutnar, the man who put parentheses around area codes. Plus 99% Invisible and Planet Money team up and we talk … Continue reading →

15 July 2013


83- Heyoon

83- Heyoon

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Alex Goldman was a misfit. Bored and disaffected and angry, he longed for a place to escape to. And then he found Heyoon. The only way to find out about Heyoon for someone to … Continue reading →

2 July 2013


82- The Man of Tomorrow

82- The Man of Tomorrow

I’m willing to concede from the get-go that I might be wrong about the entire premise of this story, but Superman has never really worked for me as a character. I preferred the more grounded Marvel Comic book characters, like … Continue reading →

20 June 2013


81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge

81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge

There’s something about rebar that fascinates me. If nothing else because there are very few things that invoke a fear of being skewered. My preoccupation with metal reinforcement bars dovetails nicely with a structure in San Francisco I’ve kind of … Continue reading →

7 June 2013


80- An Architect’s Code

80- An Architect’s Code

Lawyers have an ethics code. Journalists have an ethics code. Architects do, too. According to Ethical Standard 1.4 of the American Institute of Architects (AIA): “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.” A group called Architects, Designers, … Continue reading →

28 May 2013


79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design

79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design

For the ancient Greeks, sirens were mythical creatures who sang out to passing sailors from rocks in the sea. Their music was so beautiful, it was said, that the sailors were powerless against it–they would turn their ships towards these … Continue reading →

8 May 2013


78- No Armed Bandit

78- No Armed Bandit

Americans have always had an uneasy relationship with gambling. To circumvent anti-gambling laws in the US, early slot machines masqueraded as vending machines. They gave out chewing gum as prizes, and those prizes could be redeemed for cash. That’s where … Continue reading →

30 April 2013


77- Game Changer

77- Game Changer

Regardless of how you feel about basketball, you’ve got to appreciate the way it can bring groups of strangers together to share moments of pure adulation and collective defeat. That moment when time is running out, the team is down … Continue reading →

15 April 2013


76- The Modern Moloch

76- The Modern Moloch

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.” And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began … Continue reading →

4 April 2013


99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases

99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases

Wherever there is sufficient demand to move between two points of differing elevation, there are stairs. In some hilly neighborhoods of California–if you know where to look–you’ll find public, outdoor staircases. The large number of hidden public staircases is part … Continue reading →

21 March 2013


99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs

99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs

There was a time when every street sign, every billboard, and every window display was made by a sign artist with a paint kit and an arsenal of squirrel- or camel-hair brushes. Some lived an itinerant lifestyle, traveling from town … Continue reading →

8 March 2013


99% Invisible-73- The Zanzibar and Other Building Poems

99% Invisible-73- The Zanzibar and Other Building Poems

There comes a time in the life of a modern city where it begins to grow up–literally. Santiago, the capital of Chile, has been going through a tremendous growth spurt since its economic boom of the mid 1990s. It happened … Continue reading →

18 February 2013


99% Invisible-72- New Old Town

99% Invisible-72- New Old Town

Like many cities in Central Europe, Warsaw is made up largely of grey, ugly, communist block-style architecture. Except for one part: The Old Town. Walking through this historic district, it’s just like any other quaint European city. There are tourist … Continue reading →

5 February 2013


99% Invisible-71- In and Out of LOVE

99% Invisible-71- In and Out of LOVE

Though its officially name is JFK Plaza, the open space near Philadelphia’s City Hall is more commonly known as LOVE Park. With its sleek granite benches, geometric raised planter beds, and long expanses of pavement, its success as a pedestrian … Continue reading →

23 January 2013


99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

When Eric Molinsky lived in Los Angeles, he kept hearing this story about a bygone transportation system called the Red Car. The Red Car, he was told, had been this amazing network of streetcars that connected the city–until a car … Continue reading →

11 January 2013


99% Invisible-69- The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo

99% Invisible-69- The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo

If you’re not from California, or missed this bit of news, the University of California has a new logo. Or rather had a new logo. To be more precise they had a new “visual identity system,” which is the kind … Continue reading →

31 December 2012


99% Invisible-68- Built for Speed

99% Invisible-68- Built for Speed

I want you to conjure an image in your mind of the white stripes that divide the lanes of traffic going the same direction on a major highway. How long are the stripes and the spaces between them? You can … Continue reading →

12 December 2012


99% Invisible-67- Broken Window

99% Invisible-67- Broken Window

When Melissa Lee was growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town in upstate New York, there were only so many fun things to do. One was buying geodes and smashing them apart with a hammer. (You know geodes, right? Those … Continue reading →

29 November 2012


99% Invisible-66- Kowloon Walled City

99% Invisible-66- Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City was the densest place in the world, ever. By its peak in the 1990s, the 6.5 acre Kowloon Walled City was home to at least 33,000 people (with estimates of up to 50,000). That’s a population density … Continue reading →

19 November 2012


99% Invisible-65- Razzle Dazzle

99% Invisible-65- Razzle Dazzle

When most people think of camouflage they think of blending in with the environment, but camouflage can also take the opposite approach. It has long been hypothesized that stripes on zebras make it difficult for a predator to distinguish one … Continue reading →

5 November 2012


99% Invisible-64- Derelict Dome

99% Invisible-64- Derelict Dome

In the Cape Cod town of Woods Hole, buildings are not usually dome-shaped. Producer Katie Klocksin was pretty surprised when she came across one. Katie started asking around about the dome.  She found it was built by the late Buckminster … Continue reading →

25 October 2012


99% Invisible-63- The Political Stage

99% Invisible-63- The Political Stage

On this special edition of 99% Invisible, we joined forces with Andrea Seabrook of DecodeDC to investigate all the thought that goes into the most miniscule details of a political campaign. Andrea was the star of episode #48 of 99% … Continue reading →

12 October 2012


99% Invisible-62- Q2

99% Invisible-62- Q2

Benjamen Walker had a theory that priority queues are changing the American experience of waiting in line. So he visited amusement parks, highways, and community colleges to find out how these priority queues work and who is using them. What … Continue reading →

2 October 2012


99% Invisible-61- A Series of Tubes

99% Invisible-61- A Series of Tubes

Pneumatic (adj.):  of, or pertaining to, air, gases, or wind. In the world before telephone, radio, and email, the tasks of transmitting information and moving material objects were essentially the same challenge.  The way you sent someone a message was … Continue reading →

20 September 2012


99% Invisible-60b- BackStory- Heyward Shepherd Memorial

99% Invisible-60b- BackStory- Heyward Shepherd Memorial

I only recently started listening to BackStory with the American History Guys, but it’s already earned a top spot in my crowded weekly rotation. With great stories and lively discussion, the “History Guys” connect our history to the present day. … Continue reading →

10 September 2012


99% Invisible-60a- Two Storeys

99% Invisible-60a- Two Storeys

While we’re gearing up for season 3, we present two pieces from two shows we love: First up, Language Bites from RTE Choice in Ireland. Language Bites is a series of 1-minute programs exploring the origins of popular phrases in … Continue reading →

22 August 2012


99% Invisible-60- Names vs The Nothing

99% Invisible-60- Names vs The Nothing

New Public Sites is an investigation into some of the invisible sites and overlooked features of our everyday public spaces. These are the liminal spaces within cities that are not traditionally framed as “public space” because, quite frankly, they are … Continue reading →

6 August 2012


99% Invisible-59- Some Other Sign that People Do Not Totally Regret Life

99% Invisible-59- Some Other Sign that People Do Not Totally Regret Life

Sean Cole is a poet and he knows what you think of that. He is also a radio producer. One night, drunk and stumbling around the Hudson River with his friend Malissa O’Donnell, he discovered a monument — two of … Continue reading →

25 July 2012


99% Invisible-58- Purple Reign

99% Invisible-58- Purple Reign

What’s the difference between what the public sees and what an architect sees when they look at a building? The hotel on the very prominent corner of Touhy and Kilbourn Avenues in Lincolnwood, Illinois used to be the town’s most … Continue reading →

13 July 2012


Kickstarter Video for Season 3 of 99% Invisible

Kickstarter Video for Season 3 of 99% Invisible

This is the Kickstarter video for funding the new season of 99% Invisible. If you enjoy the show and want to help keep it going, now is the time to go to our funding page and chip in a little. … Continue reading →

12 July 2012


99% Invisible-57- What Gave You That Idea

99% Invisible-57- What Gave You That Idea

Starlee Kine’s friend Noel works in advertising. In 2003, Noel was working in at an agency in Richmond, VA. Everyone wanted to work on flashy spots like Apple or Nike or Gatorade. Do you know what wasn’t flashy? Insurance. Which … Continue reading →

28 June 2012


99% Invisible-56- Frozen Music

99% Invisible-56- Frozen Music

Goethe said, “Architecture is frozen music.” I like that. Of course that was before audio recording, so now, for the most part, music is frozen music. It’s only very recently in the history of music that we’ve been able to … Continue reading →

14 June 2012


99% Invisible-55- The Best Beer in the World

99% Invisible-55- The Best Beer in the World

If you’re a beer nerd, or have a friend who’s a beer nerd, you’ve heard of Belgian beers. Belgians take beer very seriously. Amongst the 200 Belgian breweries, there’s a very specific sub-type: Trappist beers. According to our reporter Cyrus … Continue reading →

31 May 2012


99% Invisible-54- The Colour of Money

99% Invisible-54- The Colour of Money

US paper currency is so ubiquitous that to really look at its graphic design with fresh eyes requires some deliberate and focused attention. So pull out a greenback from your wallet (or look at a picture one online) and just … Continue reading →

16 May 2012


99% Invisible-53- The Xanadu Effect

99% Invisible-53- The Xanadu Effect

What happens when we build big? Julia Barton remembers going to the top floor of Dallas’s then-new city hall when she was teenager. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a huge trapezoid jutting out over a wide plaza. Julia … Continue reading →

1 May 2012


99% Invisible-52- Galloping Gertie

99% Invisible-52- Galloping Gertie

Even during the construction of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the deck would go up and down by several feet with the slightest breeze. Construction workers on the span chewed on lemon wedges to stop their motion sickness. They nicknamed … Continue reading →

18 April 2012


99% Invisible-51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

99% Invisible-51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

“Cities exist to bring people together, but cities can also keep people apart” – Daniel D’Oca, Urban Planner, Interboro Partners. Cities are great. They have movement, activity and diversity. But go to any city and it’s pretty clear, a place … Continue reading →

3 April 2012


99% Invisible-50- DeafSpace

99% Invisible-50- DeafSpace

The acoustics of a building are a big concern for architects. But for designers at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, it’s the absence of sound that defines the approach to architecture. Gallaudet is a university dedicated to educating the deaf … Continue reading →

22 March 2012


99% Invisible-49- Queue Theory and Design

99% Invisible-49- Queue Theory and Design

In the US, it’s called a line. In Canada, it’s often referred to as a line-up. Pretty much everywhere else, it’s known as a queue. My friend Benjamen Walker is obsessed with queues. He keeps sending me YouTube clips of … Continue reading →

9 March 2012


99% Invisible-48- The Bathtubs or the Boiler Room

99% Invisible-48- The Bathtubs or the Boiler Room

“I have this habit of walking into any door that’s unlocked…You start poking around, going into doors…you find the coolest things…” -Andrea Seabrook, NPR Congressional Correspondent In the eight years Andrea Seabrook has been reporting on Congress, she has made … Continue reading →

26 February 2012


99% Invisible-47- US Postal Service Stamps

99% Invisible-47- US Postal Service Stamps

Somebody might be able to do a great painting that’s 20 x 30 inches, but you take that down to 1 x 1.5 inches, and it’s a challenge to make it work. -Ethel Kessler, Art Director for USPS Stamp Services … Continue reading →

10 February 2012


99% Invisible-46- Vulcanite Dentures

99% Invisible-46- Vulcanite Dentures

Before the 1850s, dentures were made out of very hard, very painful and very expensive material, like gold or ivory. They were a luxury item. The invention of Vulcanite hard rubber changed everything. It was moldable, it could be precisely … Continue reading →

27 January 2012


99% Invisible-45- Immersive Ideal

99% Invisible-45- Immersive Ideal

Beauty Pill is band I really like from Washington DC. They have released two EPs (The Cigarette Girl From the Future and You Are Right to be Afraid) and their last album, The Unsustainable Lifestyle, came out in 2004. In … Continue reading →

18 January 2012


99% Invisible-44- The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

99% Invisible-44- The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

The Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis became most famous at the moment of its demise. The thirty-three high-rise towers built in the 1950’s were supposed to solve the impending population crisis in inner city St. Louis. It was supposed … Continue reading →

6 January 2012


99% Invisible-43- Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators

99% Invisible-43- Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators

“There’s a secret jazz seeping from Washington’s aging Metro escalators – those anemic metal walkways that fill our transit system…they honk and bleat and squawk…why are you still wearing those earbuds?” -Chris Richards, “Move along with the soundtrack of Metro’s … Continue reading →

19 December 2011


99% Invisible-42- Recognizably Anonymous

99% Invisible-42- Recognizably Anonymous

Anonymous is not group. It is not an organization. Rob Walker describes Anonymous as a “loosely affiliated and ever-changing band of individuals who… have been variously described as hackers, hacktivists, free-expression zealots, Internet troublemakers, and assorted combinations thereof.” But when … Continue reading →

9 December 2011


99% Invisible-41- The Human-Human Interface

99% Invisible-41- The Human-Human Interface

Paola Antonelli is the Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. Her most recent blockbuster show, Talk to Me, explored the communication between people and objects: from chairs that talk to subway … Continue reading →

3 December 2011


99% Invisible-40- Billy Possum

99% Invisible-40- Billy Possum

It’s totally unfair. Hydrox cookies came out four years before the introduction of Oreos, but Hydrox could never shake the image that it was a cheap knock-off, an also-ran. As a consumer product, it’s completely out of your hands if … Continue reading →

23 November 2011


99% Invisible-39X- The Biography of 100,000 Square Feet

99% Invisible-39X- The Biography of 100,000 Square Feet

United Nations Plaza sits in the center of San Francisco. Most people consider it a complete failure as a public space. Its central feature, at the entrance of the plaza, is a unique fountain that was designed by Lawrence Halprin … Continue reading →

18 November 2011


99% Invisible-39- Darth Vader Family Courthouse

99% Invisible-39- Darth Vader Family Courthouse

It’s hard to imagine a place where more desperate and depressing drama unfolds on a daily basis than a family courthouse- custody battles, abuse, divorce- and if you were to design a place to reflect and amplify that misery, not … Continue reading →

28 October 2011


99% Invisible-38- Sound of Sport

99% Invisible-38- Sound of Sport

If Dennis Baxter and Bill Whiston are doing their job right, you probably don’t notice that they’re doing their job. But they are so good at doing their job, that you probably don’t even know that their job exists at … Continue reading →

13 October 2011


99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

If I asked you to close your eyes and mimic the action of using one of the simple human interfaces of everyday life, you could probably do it. Without having a button to push, you could close your eyes and … Continue reading →

29 September 2011


99% Invisible-36- Super Bon Bonn

99% Invisible-36- Super Bon Bonn

Cities are pretty robust organisms, they tend to survive even when put under tremendous stress and strain. Local industries rise and fall, people immigrate and emigrate, but most of these changes happen over decades. What happens to a city when … Continue reading →

16 September 2011


99% Invisible-35- Elegy for WTC

99% Invisible-35- Elegy for WTC

I want to be careful not to overstate what it means for a building to die. A building’s worth is an infinitesimal fraction of the worth a person’s life. Even two buildings don’t even move the needle in comparison to … Continue reading →

1 September 2011


99% Invisible-34- The Speed of Light for Building Pyramids

99% Invisible-34- The Speed of Light for Building Pyramids

Last year, Steve Burrows CBE (Principle at the engineering consulting firm Arup) spent several weeks in Egypt studying the pyramids through the eyes of a modern day structural engineer. The result, which was presented in a documentary for the Discovery … Continue reading →

19 August 2011


99% Invisible-33- A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll

99% Invisible-33- A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll

If you look at the outer hull of commercial ships, you might find a painted circle bisected with a long horizontal line. This marking is called the load line, or as I prefer, the Plimsoll line. This simple graphic design … Continue reading →

4 August 2011


99% Invisible-32- Design for Airports

99% Invisible-32- Design for Airports

When I spoke with Allison Arieff about the design of airports, she said to me, if all airports simply played Brian Eno’s album Ambient 1: Music for Airports over the speakers, every airport would be better. I say this to … Continue reading →

28 July 2011


99% Invisible-31- Feltron Annual Report

99% Invisible-31- Feltron Annual Report

Nicholas Felton is an information designer. Since 2005, he has tabulated thousands upon thousands of tiny measurements in his life and designed stunning graphs and maps and created concise infographics that detail that year’s activities. The results were originally intended … Continue reading →

14 July 2011


99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn

In 1998 Dr. Gary Kaplan, the CEO of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle received some bad news about his hospital. It was losing money. So Dr. Kaplan started studying how other hospitals were being run to see if there … Continue reading →

1 July 2011


99% Invisible-29- Cul de Sac

99% Invisible-29- Cul de Sac

When people critique cul-de-sacs, a lot of the time, they’re actually critiquing the suburbs more generally. The cul-de-sac has become sort of like the mascot of the suburbs– like if suburbia had a flag, it would have a picture of … Continue reading →

17 June 2011


99% Invisible-28- Movie Title Sequences

99% Invisible-28- Movie Title Sequences

More and more I’m finding that the first 2-3 minutes of a movie are my favorite part of the film. My life is devoted to the beautiful expression of information, which is why film title sequences hold a special place … Continue reading →

10 June 2011


99% Invisible-27- Bridge to the Sky

99% Invisible-27- Bridge to the Sky

There are rules that dicate what you can build and how. Rules of physics and rules of men who sit on various bureaucratic boards and bodies. These rules dictated that if silk magnate John Noble Stearns wanted to build one … Continue reading →

3 June 2011


99% Invisible-26- Chicago’s Jailhouse Skyscraper

99% Invisible-26- Chicago’s Jailhouse Skyscraper

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It’s a triangle-shaped skyscraper, 27 stories, with tall, super-narrow, irregularly-spaced windows up and down each wall. The outside walls look like old computer … Continue reading →

20 May 2011


99% Invisible-25- Unsung Icons of Soviet Design

99% Invisible-25- Unsung Icons of Soviet Design

There’s something that links most of the everyday objects presented in “Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design.” But it’s hard to tell exactly what that is just by looking at this collection of wobbly dolls, drinking glasses, primitive … Continue reading →

13 May 2011


99% Invisible-24- The Capitol Columns

99% Invisible-24- The Capitol Columns

If you were present for any of the presidential inaugurations, from Andrew Jackson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, you saw the solemn oath of office taken between twenty-two smooth, sandstone columns at the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol Building. The … Continue reading →

6 May 2011


99% Invisible-23- You Are Listening To + Radio Net

99% Invisible-23- You Are Listening To + Radio Net

youarelistening.to appeared online on March 6, 2011 and I was hooked instantly. The combination of the police scanner and ambient music is an intriguing, and distinctly live, experience (unlike most of the time shifted audio I tend to consume). Its … Continue reading →

22 April 2011


99% Invisible-22- Free Speech Monument

99% Invisible-22- Free Speech Monument

In 1989, a group called the Berkeley Art Project decided to hold a national public art competition to create a monument that would commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which began on the University of California Berkeley … Continue reading →

15 April 2011


99% Invisible-21- BLDGBLOG: On Sound

99% Invisible-21- BLDGBLOG: On Sound

Most sound design in architecture is centered around designing for silence. Buildings are trying to block out that constant stream noise from the street and insulate you from those jarring clangs of industry. Geoff Manaugh loves the intersection of sound … Continue reading →

1 April 2011


99% Invisible-20- Nikko Concrete Commando

99% Invisible-20- Nikko Concrete Commando

In 2001, Delfin Vigil was walking the streets of San Francisco and ran across the name “Nikko” carved into the concrete sidewalk. After seeing Nikko once, Delfin began to see the name everywhere. One block after another, there he was … Continue reading →

25 March 2011


99% Invisible-19X- RJDJ Reactive Music

99% Invisible-19X- RJDJ Reactive Music

This week, the radio audience heard episode #10, but for you web and podcast listeners, I have a story I did about a year and a half ago, about the reactive music app called RJDJ. I did this piece for … Continue reading →

21 March 2011


99% Invisible-19- Liberation Squares plus NY Dick

99% Invisible-19- Liberation Squares plus NY Dick

In a recent piece from Urban Omnibus, Vishaan Chakrabarti (Professor at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University), wrote about how urban open spaces contribute to political change, “Public spaces like Tompkins Square, Tiananmen Square and … Continue reading →

11 March 2011


99% Invisible-18- Check Cashing Stores

99% Invisible-18- Check Cashing Stores

A few years ago, journalist Douglas McGray learned that the largest chain of check cashing stores in Southern California, Nix Check Cashing, was being bought by the nation’s largest credit union, Kinecta. The credit union thought it had something to … Continue reading →

4 March 2011


99% Invisible-17- Concrete Furniture

99% Invisible-17- Concrete Furniture

The New City Hall, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, was the first modern, concrete, civic building in Toronto. When it opened in 1965, it stood out very prominently in the traditional Victorian fabric of the city. The striking concrete … Continue reading →

25 February 2011


99% Invisible-16- A Designed Language

99% Invisible-16- A Designed Language

The idea is simple and quite beautiful: if we all shared a second, politically neutral language, people of all different nations and cultures could communicate freely and easily, and it would foster international understanding and peace. This is the idea … Continue reading →

18 February 2011


99% Invisible-15- Sounds of the Artificial World

99% Invisible-15- Sounds of the Artificial World

Without all the beeps and chimes, without sonic feedback, all of your modern conveniences would be very hard to use. If a device and its sounds are designed correctly, it creates a special “theater of the mind” that users completely … Continue reading →

11 February 2011


99% Invisible-14- Periodic Table

99% Invisible-14- Periodic Table

Everyone knows it when they see it. The classic “castle with turrets” periodic table is a beautiful and concise icon that contains a great deal of amazing information, if you only know how to read it. And even if you … Continue reading →

4 February 2011


99% Invisible-13x-Game Over (Snap Judgment)

99% Invisible-13x-Game Over (Snap Judgment)

99% Invisible Extra! The tape rolls as we witness the tearful end of a perfect online world. This is a piece I did for Snap Judgment, based on a story from Robert Ashley’s brilliant A Life Well Wasted internet radio … Continue reading →

7 January 2011


99% Invisible-13- Maps

99% Invisible-13- Maps

I’m sorry, but if you don’t love maps, I don’t think we can be friends anymore. Maps are amazing. They are art and story. A representation of where we are and where we wish we could be. They’ve always had … Continue reading →

17 December 2010


99% Invisible-12- 99% Guilt Free

99% Invisible-12- 99% Guilt Free

“Sustainable Design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating the negative impact to the natural environment.” -Jason F. McLennan, The Philosophy of Sustainable Design I like McLennan’s definition of … Continue reading →

3 December 2010


99% Invisible-11- 99% Undesigned

99% Invisible-11- 99% Undesigned

Almost everything in modern life is designed to waste energy. The whole system evolved on a false premise that petroleum is cheap and plentiful and will be that way forever. The awesome Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on The Brain … Continue reading →

25 November 2010


99% Invisible-10- 99% Sound and Feel

99% Invisible-10- 99% Sound and Feel

Chris Downey explains it like this, “Beethoven continued to write music, even some of his best music, after he lost his hearing…What’s more preposterous, composing music you can’t hear, or designing architecture you can’t see?” Chris Downey had been an … Continue reading →

19 November 2010


99% Invisible-09X-99% Doomed

99% Invisible-09X-99% Doomed

99% Invisible Extra! NASA is figuring out how to take the next great leap into space. The difficulty is, if we leap to Mars, we might not make it back. This is a story I produced last year (Summer 2009) … Continue reading →

13 November 2010


99% Invisible-09- 99% Private

99% Invisible-09- 99% Private

Privately Owned Public Open Spaces, or POPOS, are these little gardens, terraces, plazas, and seating areas that are private property, but are mandated for public use. City planners require developers to add these little “parks” to their buildings to make … Continue reading →

5 November 2010


99% Invisible-08- 99% Free Parking

99% Invisible-08- 99% Free Parking

It’s weird how much anxiety comes from parking in a city. Beyond the stress of looking for parking, you must contend with the frequently unreliable meters. The signage can be indecipherable. As a point of interaction with your municipality, it’s … Continue reading →

29 October 2010


99% Invisible-07- 99% Alien

99% Invisible-07- 99% Alien

Humans need a few basic things to survive- air, water, food, heat, shelter- but just surviving isn’t really enough. We also need familiarity, a little comfort, interaction, a small place of our own. When it comes to designing space habitat … Continue reading →

14 October 2010


99% Invisible-06- 99% Symbolic

99% Invisible-06- 99% Symbolic

Before I moved to Chicago in 2005, I didn’t even know cities had their own flags. In Chicago, the city flag is everywhere. It’s incorporated into all different aspects of city life and the design elements are used on businesses, … Continue reading →

7 October 2010


99% Invisible-05- 99% Forgotten

99% Invisible-05- 99% Forgotten

At the top of Mt. Olympus in San Francisco, on what was once thought to be the geographic center of the city, is a pedestal for a statue that isn’t there. There’s no marker. You can just make out the … Continue reading →

1 October 2010