99% Invisible

By Roman Mars

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Category: Design

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Subscribers: 29510
Reviews: 112

B Keller
 Sep 9, 2020


 Aug 29, 2020

Dee Courtney
 Aug 12, 2020
This is the podcast that got me into podcasts. Never had so much fun learning!

Nathan
 Jul 31, 2020

Sharon
 Jul 29, 2020
Best podcast! great topics and host is wonderful. Highly recommend

Description

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.

A proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.


Episode Date
414- The Address Book
26:29

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

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Sep 22, 2020
413- Highways 101
35:07

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

Pre-order The 99% Invisible City

Sep 15, 2020
412- Where Do We Go From Here?
36:29

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

Sep 09, 2020
411- Podcast Episode
35:23

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

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Sep 01, 2020
244- The Revolutionary Post
19:17

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!

Aug 25, 2020
410- Policing the Open Road
37:55

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

Aug 11, 2020
409- California Love Scared Straight
40:32

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.

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Aug 04, 2020
408- Valley of the Fallen
35:00

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

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Jul 29, 2020
407- The Dolphin that Roared
40:36

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!

Jul 21, 2020
406- A Side of Franchise
38:07

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!

Jul 14, 2020
405- Freedom House Ambulance Service
44:11

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

Jul 08, 2020
404- Return of Oñate's Foot
53:50

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

Jun 30, 2020
403- Return of the Yokai
34:04

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

Jun 24, 2020
402- Instant Gramification
33:47

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

Jun 16, 2020
Wedding Dresses: Articles of Interest #12
28:51

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.

Jun 09, 2020
Diamonds: Articles of Interest #11
31:16

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.

May 29, 2020
Suits: Articles of Interest #10
32:25

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.

May 26, 2020
Perfume: Articles of Interest #9
29:44

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.

May 19, 2020
Knockoffs: Articles of Interest #8
31:00

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.

May 15, 2020
A Fantasy of Fashion: Articles of Interest #7
39:52

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.

May 12, 2020
401- The Natural Experiment
01:09:12

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

May 06, 2020
400- The Smell of Concrete After Rain
28:31

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

Apr 29, 2020
399- Masking for a Friend
38:53

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.

Apr 21, 2020
398- Unsheltered in Place
43:35

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

Apr 14, 2020
397- Wipe Out
30:54

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

Apr 07, 2020
396- This Day in Esoteric Political History
32:47

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

Mar 31, 2020
395- This is Chance! Redux
45:29

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!

Mar 25, 2020
394- Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are
18:10

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

Mar 17, 2020
393- Map Quests: Political, Physical and Digital
41:59

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

Mar 11, 2020
392- The Weather Machine
29:44

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

Mar 03, 2020
391- Over the Road
44:34

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.

Feb 26, 2020
390- Fraktur
37:21

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

Feb 19, 2020
389- Whomst Among Us Has Let The Dogs Out
38:29

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

Feb 12, 2020
388- Missing the Bus
35:41

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

Feb 05, 2020
387- The Worst Video Game Ever
26:37

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

Jan 28, 2020
386- Their Dark Materials
38:39

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

Jan 22, 2020
385- Shade
30:47

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

Jan 15, 2020
384- Mini-Stories: Volume 8
50:37

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

Jan 07, 2020
383- Mini-Stories: Volume 7
40:55

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.

Dec 19, 2019
Smart Stuff with Justin and Roman- Founder Effect
05:37

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.

Dec 15, 2019
382- The ELIZA Effect
45:19

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

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Dec 11, 2019
381- The Infantorium
34:46

“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.

Dec 03, 2019
380- Mannequin Pixie Dream Girl
41:19

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

Nov 27, 2019
379- Cautionary Tales
31:23

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

Nov 19, 2019
378- Ubiquitous Icons: Peace, Power, and Happiness
35:57

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

Nov 13, 2019
377- How To Pick A Pepper
35:43

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.

Nov 05, 2019
376- Great Bitter Lake Association
32:59

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

Oct 30, 2019
375- Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece
27:48

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

Oct 23, 2019
374- Unsure Footing
26:37

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

Oct 15, 2019
373- The Kirkbride Plan
39:00

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

Oct 08, 2019
372- The Help-Yourself City
31:41

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

Oct 01, 2019
99% Invisible presents What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law
40:05

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  David 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

Sep 24, 2019
371- Dead Cars
36:18

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!

Sep 18, 2019
370- The Pool and the Stream Redux
40:45

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

Sep 10, 2019
369- Wait Wait...Tell Me!
31:53

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!

Sep 04, 2019
368- All Rings Considered
36:51
Aug 28, 2019
367- Peace Lines
35:22
Aug 21, 2019
366- Model City
01:01:30
Aug 13, 2019
365- On Beeing
24:52
Aug 06, 2019
364- He's Still Neutral
32:55
Jul 31, 2019
363- Invisible Women
27:07
Jul 23, 2019
362- Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine
41:28
Jul 17, 2019
361- Built on Sand
36:41
Jul 09, 2019
360- The Universal Page
38:26
Jul 02, 2019
359- Life and Death in Singapore
33:20
Jun 25, 2019
358- The Anthropocene Reviewed
01:04:50
Jun 18, 2019
357- The Barney Design redux
25:49
Jun 11, 2019
356- The Automat
34:59
Jun 04, 2019
355- Depave Paradise
36:12
May 28, 2019
Sound and Health: Hospitals
17:22
May 24, 2019
281- La Sagrada Familia
31:40
May 21, 2019
Sound and Health: Cities
19:09
May 17, 2019
354- Weeding is Fundamental
37:57
May 14, 2019
353- From Bombay with Love
33:14
May 07, 2019
352- Uptown Squirrel
29:57
May 01, 2019
351- Play Mountain
37:16
Apr 24, 2019
350- The Roman Mars Mazda Virus
52:17
Apr 16, 2019
349- Froebel's Gifts
23:57
Apr 09, 2019
348- Three Things That Made the Modern Economy
28:07
Apr 02, 2019
347- The Many Deaths of a Painting
40:47
Mar 27, 2019
346- Palaces for the People
44:07
Mar 19, 2019
345- Classic Cartoon Sound Effects!
27:14
Mar 12, 2019
344- The Known Unknown
45:14
Mar 06, 2019
343- Usonia Redux
39:54
Feb 26, 2019
342- Beneath the Ballpark
30:45
Feb 20, 2019
341- National Sword
41:13
Feb 13, 2019
340- The Secret Lives of Color
44:58
Feb 05, 2019
339- The Tunnel
46:48
Jan 30, 2019
338- Crude Habitat
35:26
Jan 23, 2019
337- Atomic Tattoos
34:37
Jan 16, 2019
336- Mini-Stories: Volume 6
48:40
Jan 09, 2019
335- Gathering the Magic
30:03
Jan 01, 2019
334- Christmas with The Allusionist
36:50
Dec 26, 2018
333- Mini-Stories: Volume 5
43:45
Dec 18, 2018
Bonus Episode- Avery talks Articles of Interest with Roman
11:03
Dec 14, 2018
332- The Accidental Room
34:37
Dec 12, 2018
331- Oñate's Foot
43:11
Dec 05, 2018
330- Raccoon Resistance
25:54
Nov 27, 2018
201- The Green Book redux
27:30
Nov 21, 2018
329- Orphan Drugs
27:39
Nov 14, 2018
328- Devolutionary Design
32:50
Nov 06, 2018
327- A Year in the Dark
32:24
Oct 31, 2018
326- Welcome to Jurassic Art
28:42
Oct 23, 2018
325- The Worst Way to Start a City
31:07
Oct 16, 2018
Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6
30:48
Oct 12, 2018
Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5
26:10
Oct 09, 2018
Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4
23:18
Oct 05, 2018
Pockets: Articles of Interest #3
21:13
Oct 02, 2018
Plaid: Articles of Interest #2
18:55
Sep 28, 2018
Kids' Clothes: Articles of Interest #1
23:52
Sep 25, 2018
324- Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time
28:49
Sep 19, 2018
323- The House that Came in the Mail
32:11
Sep 11, 2018
322- The First Straw
24:49
Sep 05, 2018
321- Double Standards
25:41
Aug 29, 2018
320- Bundyville
42:43
Aug 21, 2018
319- It's Chinatown
35:53
Aug 14, 2018
318- Fire and Rain
30:25
Aug 08, 2018
317- Built to Burn
31:54
Aug 01, 2018
316- The Shipping Forecast
27:53
Jul 25, 2018
315- Everything is Alive
32:03
Jul 18, 2018
314- Interrobang
32:05
Jul 10, 2018
Roman Mars on ZigZag
31:30
Jul 05, 2018
VIDEO- Why Danger Symbols Can't Last Forever with Vox
0:00
Jul 04, 2018
313- Right to Roam
28:21
Jun 27, 2018
312- Post-Narco Urbanism
37:24
Jun 20, 2018
311- The Barney Design
22:36
Jun 13, 2018
310- 77 Steps
23:57
Jun 06, 2018
309- The Vault
27:06
May 30, 2018
308- Curb Cuts
45:14
May 23, 2018
307- Immobile Homes
28:50
May 16, 2018
306- Breaking Bad News
39:03
May 09, 2018
305- The Laff Box
39:58
May 01, 2018
304- Gander International Airport
25:22
Apr 25, 2018
303- The Hair Chart
23:10
Apr 17, 2018
302- Lessons from Las Vegas
33:19
Apr 10, 2018
301- Making it Rain
28:22
Apr 03, 2018
300- Airships and the Future that Never Was
19:13
Mar 27, 2018
299- Gerrymandering
44:51
Mar 21, 2018
200- Miss Manhattan Redux
24:15
Mar 14, 2018
298- Fordlandia
30:11
Mar 07, 2018
297- Blood, Sweat and Tears (City of the Future, Part 2)
33:01
Feb 28, 2018
296- Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)
23:29
Feb 21, 2018
295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar
27:11
Feb 13, 2018
294- Border Wall
28:48
Feb 06, 2018
293- Managed Retreat
31:42
Jan 31, 2018
292- Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud
31:36
Jan 23, 2018
291- Thermal Delight
28:40
Jan 17, 2018
290- Mini-Stories: Volume 4
39:48
Jan 10, 2018
Biomimicry- Vox + 99% Invisible Video
0:00
Jan 02, 2018
289- Mini-Stories: Volume 3
37:47
Dec 20, 2017
288- Guerrilla Public Service Redux
20:39
Dec 12, 2017
287- The Nut Behind the Wheel
31:35
Dec 05, 2017
286- A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream
53:48
Nov 28, 2017
285- Money Makers
19:53
Nov 21, 2017
284- Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television
26:35
Nov 14, 2017
283- Dollhouses of St. Louis
27:55
Nov 07, 2017
282- Oyster-tecture
29:05
Oct 31, 2017
281- La Sagrada Familia
31:40
Oct 25, 2017
280- Half Measures
25:38
Oct 18, 2017
279- The Containment Plan
24:35
Oct 11, 2017
278- The Athletic Brassiere
23:35
Oct 03, 2017
277- Ponte City Tower
29:06
Sep 26, 2017
276- The Finnish Experiment
28:38
Sep 19, 2017
275- Coal Hogs Work Safe
19:23
Sep 12, 2017
274- The Age of the Algorithm
21:02
Sep 05, 2017
273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque
13:02
Aug 29, 2017
272- Person in Lotus Position
27:57
Aug 22, 2017
271- The Great Dismal Swamp
24:24
Aug 15, 2017
270- The Stethoscope
19:09
Aug 09, 2017
269- Ways of Hearing
37:31
Aug 01, 2017
268- El Gordo
22:50
Jul 25, 2017
267- The Trials of Dan and Dave
52:10
Jul 18, 2017
266- Repackaging the Pill
17:49
Jul 11, 2017
265- The Pool and the Stream
30:30
Jul 04, 2017
264- Mexico 68
21:55
Jun 27, 2017
263- You Should Do a Story
25:34

“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 →

Jun 20, 2017
262- In the Same Ballpark
24:41

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 →

Jun 13, 2017
Intro to a new Roman Mars podcast: What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law
11:23

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 →

Jun 08, 2017
199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball
19:37

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 →

Jun 07, 2017
261- Squatters of the Lower East Side
22:55

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 →

May 30, 2017
260- New Jersey
19:12

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 →

May 23, 2017
259- This Is Chance: Anchorwoman of the Great Alaska Earthquake
27:13

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 →

May 16, 2017
258- The Modern Necropolis
17:36

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 →

May 09, 2017
257- Reversing the Grid
25:28

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 →

May 02, 2017
256- Sounds Natural
22:42

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 →

Apr 18, 2017
255- The Architect of Hollywood
19:47

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 →

Apr 11, 2017
254- Containers
30:27

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 →

Apr 04, 2017
253- Manzanar
23:55

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 →

Mar 28, 2017
252- The Falling of the Lenins
22:53

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 →

Mar 21, 2017
251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut
44:34

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 →

Mar 14, 2017
250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)
27:56

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 →

Mar 08, 2017
249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)
26:41

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 →

Feb 28, 2017
248- Atom in the Garden of Eden
17:57

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 →

Feb 21, 2017
247- Usonia the Beautiful
18:41

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 →

Feb 15, 2017
246- Usonia 1
24:39

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 →

Feb 07, 2017
245- The Eponymist
27:58

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 →

Feb 01, 2017
244- The Revolutionary Post
17:52

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 →

Jan 24, 2017
243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle
19:40

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 →

Jan 18, 2017
242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2
29:36

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 →

Jan 10, 2017
241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1
27:17

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 →

Dec 20, 2016
240- Plat of Zion
17:00

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 →

Dec 14, 2016
239- Guano Island
18:45

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 →

Dec 06, 2016
238- NBC Chimes
13:02

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 →

Nov 29, 2016
237- Dollar Store Town
15:58

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 →

Nov 23, 2016
236- Reverb
18:48

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 →

Nov 16, 2016
235- Ten Letters for the President
13:59

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 →

Nov 08, 2016
234- The Shift
16:21

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 →

Nov 01, 2016
233- Space Trash, Space Treasure
16:34

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 →

Oct 25, 2016
232- McMansion Hell
13:19

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 →

Oct 18, 2016
231- Half a House
18:02

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 →

Oct 11, 2016
230- Project Cybersyn
21:02

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 →

Oct 04, 2016
124- Longbox
18:29

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.

Sep 27, 2016
229- The Trend Forecast
15:31

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 →

Sep 20, 2016
228- Making Up Ground
18:46

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 →

Sep 13, 2016
227- Public Works
13:19

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 →

Sep 06, 2016
226- On Average
17:40

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 →

Aug 23, 2016
225- Photo Credit
18:39

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 →

Aug 17, 2016
224- A Sea Worth its Salt
17:34

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 →

Aug 09, 2016
223- The Magic Bureaucrat
32:42

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 →

Aug 03, 2016
222- Combat Hearing Loss
16:17

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 →

Jul 26, 2016
221- America’s Last Top Model
19:21

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 →

Jul 19, 2016
220- The Mind of an Architect
21:30

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 →

Jul 13, 2016
219- Unpleasant Design
13:59

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 →

Jul 06, 2016
218- Remembering Stonewall
26:31

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 →

Jun 29, 2016
217- Home on Lagrange
26:07

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 →

Jun 22, 2016
216- The Blazer Experiment
21:41

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 →

Jun 14, 2016
215- H-Day
15:57

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 →

Jun 07, 2016
130- Holdout
16:04

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 →

May 31, 2016
214- Loud and Clear
18:34

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 →

May 25, 2016
213- Separation Anxiety
15:56

“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 →

May 18, 2016
212- Turf Wars of East New York
27:26

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 →

May 11, 2016
211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street
19:29

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 →

May 04, 2016
210- Unseen City
26:30

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 →

Apr 27, 2016
209- Supertall 101
15:56

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 →

Apr 20, 2016
208- Vox Ex Machina
22:17

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 →

Apr 13, 2016
207- Soul City
30:58

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 →

Apr 06, 2016
206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv
34:47

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 →

Mar 30, 2016
205- Flying Food
14:58

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 →

Mar 23, 2016
204- The SoHo Effect
17:31

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 →

Mar 16, 2016
203- The Giftschrank
18:03

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 →

Mar 09, 2016
202- Mojave Phone Booth
18:35

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 →

Mar 02, 2016
Video- The Norman Door with Vox
0:00

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 →

Feb 27, 2016
201- The Green Book
19:49

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 →

Feb 24, 2016
200- Miss Manhattan
16:50

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 →

Feb 17, 2016
199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball
19:17

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 →

Feb 10, 2016
198- The Ice King
15:51

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 →

Feb 03, 2016
197- Fish Cannon
16:02

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 →

Jan 27, 2016
196- The Fresno Drop
13:47

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 →

Jan 20, 2016
195- Best Enjoyed By
13:44

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 →

Jan 13, 2016
194- Bone Music
11:12

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 →

Dec 22, 2015
193- Tube Benders
14:39

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 →

Dec 16, 2015
192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates
21:14

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 →

Dec 08, 2015
191- Worst Smell in the World
12:35

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 →

Dec 02, 2015
190- Fixing the Hobo Suit
18:09

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 →

Nov 24, 2015
189- The Landlord’s Game
13:48

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 →

Nov 18, 2015
188- Fountain Drinks
30:25

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 →

Nov 10, 2015
187- Butterfly Effects
15:43

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 →

Nov 04, 2015
186- War and Pizza
16:12

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 →

Oct 28, 2015
185- Atmospherians
18:22

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 →

Oct 20, 2015
110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)
23:17

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 →

Oct 14, 2015
184- Rajneeshpuram
28:20

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 →

Oct 07, 2015
183- Dead Letter Office
16:12

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 →

Sep 30, 2015
182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You
14:22

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 →

Sep 23, 2015
181- Milk Carton Kids
16:21

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 →

Sep 15, 2015
180- Reefer Madness
14:54

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 →

Sep 09, 2015
179- Bathysphere
21:13

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 →

Sep 02, 2015
178- The Great Restoration
29:05

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 →

Aug 26, 2015
177- Lawn Order
16:21

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 →

Aug 19, 2015
176- Hard to Love a Brute
16:59

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 →

Aug 12, 2015
175- The Sunshine Hotel
26:38

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 →

Aug 05, 2015
174- From the Sea, Freedom
18:13

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 →

Jul 29, 2015
173- Awareness
16:33

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 →

Jul 22, 2015
172- On Location
14:03

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 →

Jul 15, 2015
171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)
21:36

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 →

Jul 01, 2015
170- Children of the Magenta (Automation Paradox, pt. 1)
28:58

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 →

Jun 24, 2015
169- Freud’s Couch
13:19

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 →

Jun 17, 2015
168- All In Your Head
30:05

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 →

Jun 10, 2015
167- Voices in the Wire
38:02

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 →

Jun 03, 2015
166- Viva La Arquitectura!
19:04

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 →

May 27, 2015
165- The Nutshell Studies
23:15

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 →

May 20, 2015
164- The Post-Billiards Age
13:14

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 →

May 13, 2015
163- The Gruen Effect
15:28

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 →

May 06, 2015
162- Mystery House
16:04

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 →

Apr 28, 2015
161- Show of Force
19:59

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 →

Apr 22, 2015
160- Perfect Security
14:42

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 →

Apr 15, 2015
159- The Calendar
16:09

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 →

Apr 08, 2015
158- Sandhogs
24:07

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 →

Mar 31, 2015
54- The Colour of Money (R)
21:00

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 →

Mar 25, 2015
157- Devil’s Rope
20:20

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 →

Mar 18, 2015
156- Coin Check
15:34

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 →

Mar 11, 2015
155- Palm Reading
13:23

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 →

Mar 04, 2015
154- PDX Carpet
14:23

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 →

Feb 24, 2015
153- Game Over (R)
09:39

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 →

Feb 18, 2015
152- Guerrilla Public Service
12:41

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 →

Feb 11, 2015
151- La Mascotte
15:55

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 →

Feb 03, 2015
150- Under The Moonlight
14:47

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 →

Jan 28, 2015
149- Of Mice And Men
17:16

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 →

Jan 21, 2015
148- The Sizzle
13:04

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 →

Jan 14, 2015
147- Penn Station Sucks
16:45

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 →

Jan 07, 2015
146- Mooallempalooza
41:48

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 →

Dec 31, 2014
145- Octothorpe
14:26

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 →

Dec 17, 2014
144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
12:37

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 →

Dec 10, 2014
143- Inflatable Men
14:01

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 →

Dec 03, 2014
142- And The Winner Is
13:49

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 →

Nov 26, 2014
141- Three Records from Sundown
29:10

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 →

Nov 19, 2014
140- Vexillonaire
11:38

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 →

Nov 12, 2014
139- Edge of Your Seat
14:58

“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 →

Nov 04, 2014
138- O-U-I-J-A
17:27

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 →

Oct 28, 2014
137- Good Bread
15:19

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 →

Oct 22, 2014
Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution
0:00

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!  

Oct 19, 2014
136- Lights Out
14:52

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 →

Oct 14, 2014
135- For Amusement Only
13:10

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 →

Oct 07, 2014
134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line
15:53

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 →

Sep 30, 2014
133- Port of Dallas
17:48

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 →

Sep 24, 2014
132- Castle on the Park
16:03

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 →

Sep 16, 2014
131- Genesis Object
12:09

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 →

Sep 10, 2014
130- Holdout
16:04

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 →

Sep 02, 2014
129- Thomassons
12:57

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 →

Aug 26, 2014
128- Hacking IKEA
18:35

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 →

Aug 19, 2014
127- The Sound of Sports
58:53

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 →

Aug 12, 2014
126- Walk This Way
14:20

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 →

Aug 05, 2014
125- Duplitecture
10:32

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 →

Jul 29, 2014
124- Longbox
16:47

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.

Jul 22, 2014
123- Snowflake
16:41

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 →

Jul 15, 2014
122- Good Egress
15:46

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 →

Jul 08, 2014
121- Cold War Kids
20:53

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 →

Jul 01, 2014
120- Skyjacking
14:22

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 →

Jun 24, 2014
119- Feet of Engineering
14:12

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 →

Jun 17, 2014
118- Song Exploder
19:20

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 →

Jun 10, 2014
117- Clean Trains
19:05

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 →

Jun 03, 2014
116- Breaking the Bank
18:44

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 →

May 27, 2014
115- Cow Tunnels
20:41

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 →

May 20, 2014
114- Ten Thousand Years
29:22

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 →

May 13, 2014
113- Monumental Dilemma
23:13

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 →

May 06, 2014
112- Young Ruin
18:37

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 →

Apr 29, 2014
111- Masters of the Uni-verse
15:49

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 →

Apr 22, 2014
110- Structural Integrity
23:17

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 →

Apr 15, 2014
109- Title TK
15:44

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 →

Apr 08, 2014
108- Barcodes
16:57

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 →

Apr 01, 2014
107- Call Now
18:52

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 →

Mar 25, 2014
106- The Fancy Shape
14:11

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 →

Mar 18, 2014
105- One Man is An Island
18:09

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 →

Mar 11, 2014
104- Tunnel 57
20:02

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 →

Mar 05, 2014
103- UTBAPH
15:50

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 →

Feb 25, 2014
102- Icon for Access
13:54

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 →

Feb 18, 2014
101- Cover Story
17:37

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 →

Feb 11, 2014
100- Higher And Higher
16:40

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 →

Feb 04, 2014
99- The View From The 79th Floor
14:52

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 →

Jan 15, 2014
98- Six Stories- the memory palace
19:19

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 →

Jan 03, 2014
97- Numbers Stations
21:52

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 →

Dec 20, 2013
96- DIY Space Suit
12:58

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 →

Dec 03, 2013
95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue
19:54

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 →

Nov 21, 2013
94- Unbuilt
19:17

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 →

Nov 13, 2013
93- Revolving Doors
14:18

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 →

Nov 06, 2013
92- All the Buildings
17:08

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 →

Oct 29, 2013
Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes
0:00

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 →

Oct 23, 2013
91- Wild Ones Live
30:17

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 →

Oct 14, 2013
90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux
22:56

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 →

Oct 02, 2013
89- Bubble Houses
23:33

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 →

Sep 17, 2013
88- The Broadcast Clock
14:48

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 →

Sep 03, 2013
87- I Heart NY, TM
17:17

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 →

Aug 22, 2013
86- Reversal of Fortune
18:56

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 →

Aug 09, 2013
85- Noble Effort
16:17

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 →

Jul 29, 2013
84- Ode to Ladislav Sutnar plus Trading Places with Planet Money
26:27

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 →

Jul 15, 2013
83- Heyoon
26:36

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 →

Jul 02, 2013
82- The Man of Tomorrow
11:18

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 →

Jun 20, 2013
81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge
10:47

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 →

Jun 07, 2013
80- An Architect’s Code
16:39

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 →

May 28, 2013
79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design
23:38

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 →

May 08, 2013
78- No Armed Bandit
17:32

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 →

Apr 30, 2013
77- Game Changer
11:03

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 →

Apr 15, 2013
76- The Modern Moloch
21:50

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 →

Apr 04, 2013
99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases
10:36

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 →

Mar 21, 2013
99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs
11:40