Podcast

99% Invisible

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.

Episodes

  • 374- Unsure Footing

    Oct 15 2019

    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 through...more

  • 373- The Kirkbride Plan

    Oct 08 2019

    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

  • 372- The Help-Yourself City

    Oct 01 2019

    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 bo...more

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

    Sep 24 2019

    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...more

  • 371- Dead Cars

    Sep 18 2019

    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 eleme...more

  • 370- The Pool and the Stream Redux

    Sep 10 2019

    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

  • 369- Wait Wait...Tell Me!

    Sep 04 2019

    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!

  • 368- All Rings Considered

    Aug 28 2019

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

  • 367- Peace Lines

    Aug 21 2019

    There are many walls in Belfast which physically separate Protestant neighborhoods from Catholic ones. Some are fences that you can see through, while others are made of bricks and steel. Many have clearly been reinforced over time: a cinderblock wall topped with corrugated iron, then topped with razor wire, stretching up towards the sky. Many of the walls in Northern Ireland went up in the 1970s and ‘80s at the height of what’s become known as “The Troubles.” Decades later, almost all of the wa...more

  • 366- Model City

    Aug 13 2019

    During the depths of the Depression in the late 1930s, 300 craftspeople came together for two years to build an enormous scale model of the City of San Francisco. This Works Progress Administration (WPA) project was conceived as a way of putting artists to work while also creating a planning tool for the city to imagine its future. The massive work was meant to remain on public view for all to see, but World War II broke out and the 6,000 piece, hand-carved and painted wooden model was put into...more

  • 365- On Beeing

    Aug 06 2019

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

  • 364- He's Still Neutral

    Jul 31 2019

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

  • 363- Invisible Women

    Jul 23 2019

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

  • 362- Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine

    Jul 17 2019

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

  • 361- Built on Sand

    Jul 09 2019

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

  • 360- The Universal Page

    Jul 02 2019

    Reporter Andrew Leland has always loved to read. An early love of books in childhood eventually led to a job in publishing with McSweeney’s where Andrew edited essays and interviews, laid out articles, and was trained to take as much care with the look and feel of the words as he did with the expression of the ideas in the text. But as much as Andrew loves print, he has a condition that will eventually change his relationship to it pretty radically. He’s going blind. And this fact has made him d...more

  • 359- Life and Death in Singapore

    Jun 25 2019

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

  • 358- The Anthropocene Reviewed

    Jun 18 2019

    The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. On The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green rates different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale. This week 99% Invisible is featuring two episodes of The Anthropocene Reviewed in which John Green dissects: pennies, the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain, a 17,000-year-old cave painting, and the Taco Bell breakfast menu. Plus, Roman talks with John about ...more

  • 357- The Barney Design redux

    Jun 11 2019

    All over Oakland right now people are wearing Warriors shirts and flying their Warriors flags from their cars, and as much as we like our hometown team here at 99pi, we've been following these NBA finals for another design-related reason. When you watch the games in Toronto the whole stadium is filled with people wearing red raptors jerseys, but every now and then you'll see these little flashes of purple. Those bold fans are wearing one of the most polarizing jerseys in the history of sports. A...more

  • 356- The Automat

    Jun 04 2019

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

  • 355- Depave Paradise

    May 28 2019

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

  • Sound and Health: Hospitals

    May 24 2019

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

  • 281- La Sagrada Familia

    May 21 2019

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

  • Sound and Health: Cities

    May 17 2019

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

  • 354- Weeding is Fundamental

    May 14 2019

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

  • 353- From Bombay with Love

    May 07 2019

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

  • 352- Uptown Squirrel

    May 01 2019

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

  • 351- Play Mountain

    Apr 24 2019

    Even if you don't recognize a Noguchi table by name, you've definitely seen one. In movies or tv shows when they want to show that a lawyer or art dealer is really sophisticated, they put a Noguchi table in their waiting room. Noguchi was a world renowned sculptor and he had huge ambitions. His largest and most personal concept was a giant public sculpture that took the form of a massive pyramid. Try to Imagine a cross between a Mayan temple and a mountain. It pushes out of the earth with a long...more

  • 350- The Roman Mars Mazda Virus

    Apr 16 2019

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

  • 349- Froebel's Gifts

    Apr 09 2019

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

  • 348- Three Things That Made the Modern Economy

    Apr 02 2019

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

  • 347- The Many Deaths of a Painting

    Mar 27 2019

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

  • 346- Palaces for the People

    Mar 19 2019

    Social Infrastructure is the glue that binds communities together, and it is just as real as the infrastructure for water, power, or communications, although it's often harder to see. But Eric Klinenberg says that when we invest in social infrastructures such as libraries, parks, or schools, we reap all kinds of benefits. We become more likely to interact with people around us, and connected to the broader public. If we neglect social infrastructure, we tend to grow more isolated, which can have...more

  • 345- Classic Cartoon Sound Effects!

    Mar 12 2019

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

  • 344- The Known Unknown

    Mar 06 2019

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

  • 343- Usonia Redux

    Feb 26 2019

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

  • 342- Beneath the Ballpark

    Feb 20 2019

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

  • 341- National Sword

    Feb 13 2019

    Where does your recycling go? In most places in the U.S., you throw it in a bin, and then it gets carted off to be sorted and cleaned at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). From there, much of it is shipped off to mills, where bales of paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic are pulped or melted into raw materials. Some of these mills are here in the U.S. And once upon a time, many of them were in China. Since 2001, China was one of the biggest buyers of American recycling.  That is, until last ye...more

  • 340- The Secret Lives of Color

    Feb 05 2019

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

  • 339- The Tunnel

    Jan 30 2019

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

  • 338- Crude Habitat

    Jan 23 2019

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

  • 337- Atomic Tattoos

    Jan 16 2019

    In the early 1950s, teenage students in Lake County, Indiana, got up from their desks, marched down the halls and lined up at stations. There, fingers were pricked, blood was tested and the teenagers were sent on to the library, where they waited to get a specialized tattoo. Each one was in the same place on the torso, just under the left arm, and spelled out the blood type of the student. This experimental program was called Operation Tat-Type. It was administered by the county and the idea wa...more

  • 336- Mini-Stories: Volume 6

    Jan 09 2019

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

  • 335- Gathering the Magic

    Jan 01 2019

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

  • 334- Christmas with The Allusionist

    Dec 26 2018

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

  • 333- Mini-Stories: Volume 5

    Dec 18 2018

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

  • Bonus Episode- Avery talks Articles of Interest with Roman

    Dec 14 2018

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

  • 332- The Accidental Room

    Dec 12 2018

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

  • 331- Oñate's Foot

    Dec 05 2018

    Juan de Oñate is one of the world’s lesser-known conquistadors, but his name can be found all over New Mexico. There are Oñate streets, Oñate schools, and, of course, Oñate statues. When an activist group removed one foot off an Oñate statue in 1998, they said it was a symbolic act meant to highlight the atrocities Oñate committed against the indigenous population. Just as people in New Mexico were learning more of this history, the city of Albuquerque was considering building yet another statu...more

  • 330- Raccoon Resistance

    Nov 27 2018

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

  • 201- The Green Book redux

    Nov 21 2018

    The new film “Green Book” is rolling out across the country. I have not seen the film, so I can’t speak to its merits or shortcomings, but while people are possibly being introduced to the concept of the Green Book for the first time, we thought we’d re-release this story from a few years ago about the origin and significance of the Green Book: the Negro Motorists’ Travel Guide to the segregated US. As a special bonus to our story, we also have a Green Book story from Nate DiMeo of the memory ...more

  • 329- Orphan Drugs

    Nov 14 2018

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

  • 328- Devolutionary Design

    Nov 06 2018

    It’s hard to overstate just how important record album art was to music in the days before people downloaded everything. Visuals were a key part of one's experience with a record or tape or CD. The design of the album cover created a first impression of what was to come. Album art was certainly important to reporter Sean Cole, one particular album by one particular band: Devo. This is the story of Devo’s first record and the fight over the arresting image of a flashy, handsome golf legend on the...more

  • 327- A Year in the Dark

    Oct 31 2018

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

  • 326- Welcome to Jurassic Art

    Oct 23 2018

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

  • 325- The Worst Way to Start a City

    Oct 16 2018

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

  • Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6

    Oct 12 2018

    There is this myth that it’s frivolous or unproductive to care about how you look. Clothing and fashion get trivialized a lot. But think about who, culturally, gets associated with clothing and fashion: young people, women, queers, and people of color. Groups of people who historically haven’t had a voice, have expressed themselves on their bodies. Through their style, their hair, their tattoos, their piercings, and what they wear. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part s...more

  • Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5

    Oct 09 2018

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

  • Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

    Oct 05 2018

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

  • Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

    Oct 02 2018

    Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women's clothes have pockets at all, they are often and smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is pro...more

  • Plaid: Articles of Interest #2

    Sep 28 2018

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

  • Kids' Clothes: Articles of Interest #1

    Sep 25 2018

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

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

    Sep 19 2018

    The year was 1982, and in the small city of Allentown on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania sat an AM radio station called WSAN. For years, it had broadcast country music to the surrounding Lehigh Valley -- an area known for malls, manufacturing and Mack Trucks. WSAN was about to undergo a complete identity change, from a country station and to a "nostalgia" station -- meaning Big Band, and soft hits from the 1950’s. They wanted a gimmick to hook new listeners, so WSAN decided to launch a good ol...more

  • 323- The House that Came in the Mail

    Sep 11 2018

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

  • 322- The First Straw

    Sep 05 2018

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

  • 321- Double Standards

    Aug 29 2018

    Blepharoplasty is often done to lift loose or sagging skin around the upper eyelids caused by aging. But for a lot of people of Asian descent, this surgery is not strictly about aging and more commonly referred to as “double eyelid” surgery. The double eyelid surgery adds a crease -- so instead of the skin of the upper lid running smoothly from the bottom of the eyebrow straight down to the eyelashes, there is now a small indented fold in the skin, just a few millimeters wide, that runs in a ho...more

  • 320- Bundyville

    Aug 21 2018

    Most of the American west is owned by the Federal Government. About 85 percent of Nevada, 61 percent of Alaska, 53 percent of Oregon, the list goes on.  And there have always been questions about how this immense swath of land should be used. Should we allow ranchers to graze cattle, or should the western land be a place where wild animals can roam free and be protected, or is it land we want to reserve for recreation?  As you can imagine, there is no consensus on the answers to these questions ...more

  • 319- It's Chinatown

    Aug 14 2018

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

  • 318- Fire and Rain

    Aug 08 2018

    Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, right next to Santa Barbara, sits Montecito, California. The region endures a major fire approximately once every 10 years. For this landscape, fire is predictable and it is inevitable. Now, coupled with multi-year drought, it is becoming unmanageable. For decades, locals have taken fire as a fact of life, rebuilding as needed. But that acceptance is getting harder to sustain as fires become more frequent and more intense -- and as communities are fo...more

  • 317- Built to Burn

    Aug 01 2018

    After the massive Panorama Fire in southern California in 1980, a young fire researcher named Jack Cohen went in to investigate the houses that were destroyed. One of the first things that Cohen did was to listen to emergency dispatch tapes from the day of the fire. And as he listened, he began to notice a pattern. People were calling in about houses on fire long before the fire front ever reached their neighborhoods.The houses were not burning because a wall of flames was racing through the com...more

  • 316- The Shipping Forecast

    Jul 25 2018

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

  • 315- Everything is Alive

    Jul 18 2018

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

  • 314- Interrobang

    Jul 10 2018

    In the spring of 1962, an ad man named Martin Speckter was thinking about advertising when he realized something: many ads asked questions, but not just any questions -- excited and exclamatory questions -- a trend not unique to his time. Got milk?! Where's the beef?! Can you hear me now?! So he asked himself: could there be a mark that made it clear (visually on a page) that something is both a question and an exclamation?! Speckter was also the editor of the typography magazine *TYPEtalks, *s...more

  • Roman Mars on ZigZag

    Jul 05 2018

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

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

    Jul 04 2018

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

  • 313- Right to Roam

    Jun 27 2018

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

  • 312- Post-Narco Urbanism

    Jun 20 2018

    In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord, had effectively declared war on the Colombian state. At one point, his cartel was supplying 80% of the world's cocaine and the violence surrounding the drug trade had become extreme. The bloodshed was focused in the city of Medellin. As the years went on, Medellin became the most dangerous city in the world. But today, Medellin is very different. In just thirty years, it’s transformed from being the bloody cocaine capital of the world into ...more

  • 311- The Barney Design

    Jun 13 2018

    Until the early 90s, basketball uniforms were pretty tame. There had been real limits to what could be done with jerseys. All the details—the numbers, the names, the logos—had to be sewed on. Complicated graphics would have taken a massive amount of embroidery, which would have added additional weight and made the jersey hotter to wear. But dye sublimation changed everything. Sublimation is a process of printing dye directly into the fabric. Now for the first time, you could design something in ...more

  • 310- 77 Steps

    Jun 06 2018

    As the U.S. war effort ramped up in the early 1940s, the Navy put out a request for chair design submissions. They needed a chair that was fireproof, waterproof, lightweight and strong enough to survive a torpedo blast. In response, engineer named Wilton C. Dinges designed a chair made out of aluminum, bent and welded to be super strong. To show off the durability of his creation, Dinges took it up to the eighth floor of a hotel in Chicago, where the Navy was examining submissions, and threw it...more

  • 309- The Vault

    May 30 2018

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

  • 308- Curb Cuts

    May 23 2018

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

  • 307- Immobile Homes

    May 16 2018

    "Part of the paradox at the heart of manufactured housing," explains Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver "is that it's precisely the thing that makes it so affordable that also makes this a highly insecure form of housing." Sullivan says that about a third of mobile homeowners live in parks where they rent a plot of land for their home. She calls this arrangement halfway homeownership, because it’s filled with  uncertainty. The property owners can raise rents, or...more

  • 306- Breaking Bad News

    May 09 2018

    When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient -- that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment. That's why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes mo...more

  • 305- The Laff Box

    May 01 2018

    For nearly five decades, the laugh track was ubiquitous on television sitcoms, but in the early 2000s, it began to disappear. What happened? How did we get from the raucous canned laughter of the Beverly Hillbillies to the silent, sly “joke every 20 seconds” of 30 Rock? The curious story of the laugh track starts with one man who created the laugh track as a homemade piece of technology that took over the sound of television and then fell out of fashion with the rise of a more modern sense of hu...more

  • 304- Gander International Airport

    Apr 25 2018

    The Gander Airport in Newfoundland was once the easternmost airfield in North America, so when transatlantic air travel was new and difficult through the mid-20th century, Gander played a critical role in getting people back and forth from Europe to America. This made the tiny town of Gander an unlikely international hub, hosting the likes of Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the Queen of England in the beautiful, mid-century modern lounge. The lounge and bar at the airport also ...more

  • 303- The Hair Chart

    Apr 17 2018

    Andre Walker became famous for being Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, but he is also known for something else: a system that he created back in the 1990s to market his line of hair care products. The system categorizes natural hair types, and it's often referred to simply as "the hair chart." The chart identifies four hair types and within each of those categories there are different sub-types. The chart spans straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair. For Walker, the chart was all about selling his p...more

  • 302- Lessons from Las Vegas

    Apr 10 2018

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

  • 301- Making it Rain

    Apr 03 2018

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

  • 300- Airships and the Future that Never Was

    Mar 27 2018

    They are hulking, but graceful -- human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the public imagination, playing a recurring role in our dreams of alternate realities and futures that might have been. In these visions, cargo and passengers traverse the globe in smoothly gliding aircraft, then dock elegantly at the mooring towers on top of Art Deco skyscrapers. Today, blimps are mostly just PR gimmicks, but for 100 years, lighter-than-air cra...more

  • 299- Gerrymandering

    Mar 21 2018

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

  • 200- Miss Manhattan Redux

    Mar 14 2018

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

  • 298- Fordlandia

    Mar 07 2018

    In the late 1920s, the Ford Motor Company bought up millions of acres of land in Brazil. They loaded boats with machinery and supplies, and shipped them deep into the Amazon rainforest. Workers cut down trees and cleared the land and then they built a rubber plantation in the middle of one of the wildest places on earth. But Henry Ford wanted this community -- called “Fordlândia” -- to be more than just a huge plantation. He envisioned an industrial utopia. He paid his Brazilian workers good wag...more

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

    Feb 28 2018

    The Bijlmermeer (or Bijlmer, for short) was built just outside of Amsterdam in the 1960s. It was designed by modernist architects to be a "city of the future" with its functions separated into distinct zones. To Modernists, it represented a vision of the city as a well-oiled machine Upon completion, it was a massive expanse of 31 concrete towers. There were 13,000 apartments, many of them unoccupied. Just sitting there, totally empty. Listen to Part 1 of this story here. In Part 2, we look at ...more

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

    Feb 21 2018

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

  • 295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

    Feb 13 2018

    The Chase logo was introduced in 1961, when the Chase National Bank and the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged to form the Chase Manhattan Bank. At the time, few American corporations used abstract symbols for their identification. Seen as radical in that context, the Chase symbol has survived a number of subsequent mergers and has become one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Its graphic designer, Tom Geismar, has been a driving force in the field of design and graphic identity for ...more

  • 294- Border Wall

    Feb 06 2018

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

  • 293- Managed Retreat

    Jan 31 2018

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

  • 292- Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud

    Jan 23 2018

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

  • 291- Thermal Delight

    Jan 17 2018

    When air conditioning was invented in 1902, it was designed to take out the humidity in the air so printers could run four color magazines, without the colors becoming offset due to the paper warping from moisture. A young engineer named Willis Carrier developed a system that pumps air over metal coils cooled with ammonia to pull moisture from the air, but it had a side effect -- it also made the air cooler. Very quickly Carrier began to think about how it could be used beyond printing. Ultimate...more

  • 290- Mini-Stories: Volume 4

    Jan 10 2018

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

  • Biomimicry- Vox + 99% Invisible Video

    Jan 02 2018

    Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour. It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of "tunnel boom," where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species o...more

  • 289- Mini-Stories: Volume 3

    Dec 20 2017

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

  • 288- Guerrilla Public Service Redux

    Dec 12 2017

    In the early morning of August 5, 2001, artist Richard Ankrom and a group of friends assembled on the 4th Street bridge over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. They had gathered to commit a crime. Years before, when Ankrom was driving through downtown Los Angeles, he was going to merge onto the I-5 North. But he missed the exit and got lost. The I-5 exit wasn’t indicated on the green overhead sign. It was clear to Ankrom that the California Department of Transportation had made a mistake. And for s...more

  • 287- The Nut Behind the Wheel

    Dec 05 2017

    In the past fifty years, the car crash death rate has dropped by nearly 80 percent in the United States. And one of the reasons for that drop has to do with the “accident report forms” that police officers fill out when they respond to a wreck. Officers use these forms to document the weather conditions, to draw a diagram of the accident, and to identify the collision’s “primary cause.” All that information gathered on the side of the road goes from the accident report form into a federal databa...more

  • 286- A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream

    Nov 28 2017

    While the 1960s shift in print and TV advertising has been heavily documented and mythologized by Mad Men, Madison Avenue’s radiophonic collision with the counterculture is less well known. A radio advertising producer, writer, and composer, Clive Desmond takes listeners on a highly subjective journey through one narrow, eccentric, corridor of radio advertising. Here, he has rescued beautiful forgotten nuggets of radio history and delicately arranged them into a glittering associative chain—a co...more

  • 285- Money Makers

    Nov 21 2017

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

  • 284- Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television

    Nov 14 2017

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

  • 283- Dollhouses of St. Louis

    Nov 07 2017

    Back in the 1950s, St. Louis was segregated and The Ville was one of the only African-American neighborhoods in the city. The community was prosperous. Black-owned businesses thrived and the neighborhood was filled with the lovely, ornate brick homes the city has become famous for. But driving around The Ville today, the neighborhood looks very different. Some buildings are simply rundown or abandoned, but others are missing large chunks entirely. Walls have disappeared. The bricks are gone. ...more

  • 282- Oyster-tecture

    Oct 31 2017

    New York was built at the mouth of the Hudson River, and that fertile estuary environment was filled with all kinds of marine life. But one creature in particular shaped the landscape: the oyster. It is estimated that trillions of oysters once surrounded New York City, filtering bacteria and acting as a natural buffer against storm surges. Over time, pollution and other environmental changes killed off that oyster population. But a group of landscape architects are designing artificial oyster...more

  • 281- La Sagrada Familia

    Oct 25 2017

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

  • 280- Half Measures

    Oct 18 2017

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

  • 279- The Containment Plan

    Oct 11 2017

    It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It spans roughly 50 blocks, which is about a fifth of the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. It’s very clear when you’ve entered Skid Row. The sidewalks are mostly occupied by makeshift homes. A dizzying array of tarps and tents stretch out for blocks, improvised living structures sitting side by side. The edge of Skid Row is clearly defined and it wasn’t drawn by accident.  It’s the result of a very specific p...more

  • 278- The Athletic Brassiere

    Oct 03 2017

    Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle. Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to stitch a couple jock straps together to build a contraption to keep things in place. This featured story was produced by Phoebe Flanigan and edited...more

  • 277- Ponte City Tower

    Sep 26 2017

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

  • 276- The Finnish Experiment

    Sep 19 2017

    Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as “unconditional basic income” or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no strings attached or special conditions, which would remove any potential stigma associated with receiving it. In short: it would be free money. There’...more

  • 275- Coal Hogs Work Safe

    Sep 12 2017

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

  • 274- The Age of the Algorithm

    Sep 05 2017

    Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been created with good intentions. The goal is to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements. But it doesn’t always work out like that. “I don’t...more

  • 273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque

    Aug 29 2017

    Monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877. This week, we feature the story of an imagined plaque that could accompany this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nate DiMeo originally produced this story for his show The Memory Palace under the title: Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to ...more

  • 272- Person in Lotus Position

    Aug 22 2017

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

  • 271- The Great Dismal Swamp

    Aug 15 2017

    On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina. And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. It’s humid and ...more

  • 270- The Stethoscope

    Aug 09 2017

    Imagine for a moment the year 1800. A doctor is meeting with a patient – most likely in the patient’s home. The patient is complaining about shortness of breath. A cough, a fever. The doctor might check the patient’s pulse or feel their belly, but unlike today, what’s happening inside of the patient’s body is basically unknowable. There’s no MRI. No X-rays. The living body is like a black box that can’t be opened. The only way for a doctor to figure out what was wrong with a patient was to ask ...more

  • 269- Ways of Hearing

    Aug 01 2017

    When the tape started rolling in old analog recording studios, there was a feeling that musicians were about to capture a particular moment. On tape, there was no “undo.” They could try again, if they had the time and money, but they couldn’t move backwards. What’s done is done, for better and worse. Digital machines entered the mix in the 1980s, changing the way music was made — machines with a different sense of time. And the digital era has not just altered our tools for working with sound bu...more

  • 268- El Gordo

    Jul 25 2017

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

  • 267- The Trials of Dan and Dave

    Jul 18 2017

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

  • 266- Repackaging the Pill

    Jul 11 2017

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

  • 265- The Pool and the Stream

    Jul 04 2017

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

  • 264- Mexico 68

    Jun 27 2017

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

  • 263- You Should Do a Story

    Jun 20 2017

    “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 →

  • 262- In the Same Ballpark

    Jun 13 2017

    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 →

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

    Jun 08 2017

    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 →

  • 199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

    Jun 07 2017

    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 →

  • 261- Squatters of the Lower East Side

    May 30 2017

    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 →

  • 260- New Jersey

    May 23 2017

    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 →

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

    May 16 2017

    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 →

  • 258- The Modern Necropolis

    May 09 2017

    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 →

  • 257- Reversing the Grid

    May 02 2017

    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 →

  • 256- Sounds Natural

    Apr 18 2017

    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 →

  • 255- The Architect of Hollywood

    Apr 11 2017

    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 →

  • 254- Containers

    Apr 04 2017

    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 →

  • 253- Manzanar

    Mar 28 2017

    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 →

  • 252- The Falling of the Lenins

    Mar 21 2017

    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 →

  • 251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

    Mar 14 2017

    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 →

  • 250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)

    Mar 08 2017

    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 →

  • 249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)

    Feb 28 2017

    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 →

  • 248- Atom in the Garden of Eden

    Feb 21 2017

    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 →

  • 247- Usonia the Beautiful

    Feb 15 2017

    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 →

  • 246- Usonia 1

    Feb 07 2017

    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 →

  • 245- The Eponymist

    Feb 01 2017

    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 →

  • 244- The Revolutionary Post

    Jan 24 2017

    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 →

  • 243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

    Jan 18 2017

    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 →

  • 242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2

    Jan 10 2017

    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 →

  • 241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1

    Dec 20 2016

    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 →

  • 240- Plat of Zion

    Dec 14 2016

    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 →

  • 239- Guano Island

    Dec 06 2016

    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 →

  • 238- NBC Chimes

    Nov 29 2016

    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 →

  • 237- Dollar Store Town

    Nov 23 2016

    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 →

  • 236- Reverb

    Nov 16 2016

    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 →

  • 235- Ten Letters for the President

    Nov 08 2016

    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 →

  • 234- The Shift

    Nov 01 2016

    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 →

  • 233- Space Trash, Space Treasure

    Oct 25 2016

    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 →

  • 232- McMansion Hell

    Oct 18 2016

    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 →

  • 231- Half a House

    Oct 11 2016

    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 →

  • 230- Project Cybersyn

    Oct 04 2016

    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 →

  • 124- Longbox

    Sep 27 2016

    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.

  • 229- The Trend Forecast

    Sep 20 2016

    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 →

  • 228- Making Up Ground

    Sep 13 2016

    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 →

  • 227- Public Works

    Sep 06 2016

    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 →

  • 226- On Average

    Aug 23 2016

    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 →

  • 225- Photo Credit

    Aug 17 2016

    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 →

  • 224- A Sea Worth its Salt

    Aug 09 2016

    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 →

  • 223- The Magic Bureaucrat

    Aug 03 2016

    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 →

  • 222- Combat Hearing Loss

    Jul 26 2016

    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 →

  • 221- America’s Last Top Model

    Jul 19 2016

    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 →

  • 220- The Mind of an Architect

    Jul 13 2016

    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 →

  • 219- Unpleasant Design

    Jul 06 2016

    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 →

  • 218- Remembering Stonewall

    Jun 29 2016

    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 →

  • 217- Home on Lagrange

    Jun 22 2016

    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 →

  • 216- The Blazer Experiment

    Jun 14 2016

    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 →

  • 215- H-Day

    Jun 07 2016

    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 →

  • 130- Holdout

    May 31 2016

    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 →

  • 214- Loud and Clear

    May 25 2016

    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 →

  • 213- Separation Anxiety

    May 18 2016

    “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 →

  • 212- Turf Wars of East New York

    May 11 2016

    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 →

  • 211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street

    May 04 2016

    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 →

  • 210- Unseen City

    Apr 27 2016

    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 →

  • 209- Supertall 101

    Apr 20 2016

    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 →

  • 208- Vox Ex Machina

    Apr 13 2016

    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 →

  • 207- Soul City

    Apr 06 2016

    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 →

  • 206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv

    Mar 30 2016

    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 →

  • 205- Flying Food

    Mar 23 2016

    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 →

  • 204- The SoHo Effect

    Mar 16 2016

    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 →

  • 203- The Giftschrank

    Mar 09 2016

    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 →

  • 202- Mojave Phone Booth

    Mar 02 2016

    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 →

  • Video- The Norman Door with Vox

    Feb 27 2016

    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 →

  • 201- The Green Book

    Feb 24 2016

    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 →

  • 200- Miss Manhattan

    Feb 17 2016

    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 →

  • 199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

    Feb 10 2016

    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 →

  • 198- The Ice King

    Feb 03 2016

    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 →

  • 197- Fish Cannon

    Jan 27 2016

    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 →

  • 196- The Fresno Drop

    Jan 20 2016

    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 →

  • 195- Best Enjoyed By

    Jan 13 2016

    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 →

  • 194- Bone Music

    Dec 22 2015

    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 →

  • 193- Tube Benders

    Dec 16 2015

    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 →

  • 192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates

    Dec 08 2015

    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 →

  • 191- Worst Smell in the World

    Dec 02 2015

    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 →

  • 190- Fixing the Hobo Suit

    Nov 24 2015

    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 →

  • 189- The Landlord’s Game

    Nov 18 2015

    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 →

  • 188- Fountain Drinks

    Nov 10 2015

    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 →

  • 187- Butterfly Effects

    Nov 04 2015

    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 →

  • 186- War and Pizza

    Oct 28 2015

    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 →

  • 185- Atmospherians

    Oct 20 2015

    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 →

  • 110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)

    Oct 14 2015

    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 →

  • 184- Rajneeshpuram

    Oct 07 2015

    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 →

  • 183- Dead Letter Office

    Sep 30 2015

    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 →

  • 182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

    Sep 23 2015

    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 →

  • 181- Milk Carton Kids

    Sep 15 2015

    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 →

  • 180- Reefer Madness

    Sep 09 2015

    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 →

  • 179- Bathysphere

    Sep 02 2015

    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 →

  • 178- The Great Restoration

    Aug 26 2015

    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 →

  • 177- Lawn Order

    Aug 19 2015

    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 →

  • 176- Hard to Love a Brute

    Aug 12 2015

    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 →

  • 175- The Sunshine Hotel

    Aug 05 2015

    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 →

  • 174- From the Sea, Freedom

    Jul 29 2015

    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 →

  • 173- Awareness

    Jul 22 2015

    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 →

  • 172- On Location

    Jul 15 2015

    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 →

  • 171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)

    Jul 01 2015

    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 →

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

    Jun 24 2015

    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 →

  • 169- Freud’s Couch

    Jun 17 2015

    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 →

  • 168- All In Your Head

    Jun 10 2015

    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 →

  • 167- Voices in the Wire

    Jun 03 2015

    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 →

  • 166- Viva La Arquitectura!

    May 27 2015

    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 →

  • 165- The Nutshell Studies

    May 20 2015

    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 →

  • 164- The Post-Billiards Age

    May 13 2015

    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 →

  • 163- The Gruen Effect

    May 06 2015

    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 →

  • 162- Mystery House

    Apr 28 2015

    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 →

  • 161- Show of Force

    Apr 22 2015

    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 →

  • 160- Perfect Security

    Apr 15 2015

    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 →

  • 159- The Calendar

    Apr 08 2015

    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 →

  • 158- Sandhogs

    Mar 31 2015

    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 →

  • 54- The Colour of Money (R)

    Mar 25 2015

    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 →

  • 157- Devil’s Rope

    Mar 18 2015

    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 →

  • 156- Coin Check

    Mar 11 2015

    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 →

  • 155- Palm Reading

    Mar 04 2015

    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 →

  • 154- PDX Carpet

    Feb 24 2015

    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 →

  • 153- Game Over (R)

    Feb 18 2015

    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 →

  • 152- Guerrilla Public Service

    Feb 11 2015

    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 →

  • 151- La Mascotte

    Feb 03 2015

    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 →

  • 150- Under The Moonlight

    Jan 28 2015

    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 →

  • 149- Of Mice And Men

    Jan 21 2015

    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 →

  • 148- The Sizzle

    Jan 14 2015

    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 →

  • 147- Penn Station Sucks

    Jan 07 2015

    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 →

  • 146- Mooallempalooza

    Dec 31 2014

    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 →

  • 145- Octothorpe

    Dec 17 2014

    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 →

  • 144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

    Dec 10 2014

    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 →

  • 143- Inflatable Men

    Dec 03 2014

    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 →

  • 142- And The Winner Is

    Nov 26 2014

    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 →

  • 141- Three Records from Sundown

    Nov 19 2014

    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 →

  • 140- Vexillonaire

    Nov 12 2014

    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 →

  • 139- Edge of Your Seat

    Nov 04 2014

    “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 →

  • 138- O-U-I-J-A

    Oct 28 2014

    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 →

  • 137- Good Bread

    Oct 22 2014

    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 →

  • Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution

    Oct 19 2014

    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!  

  • 136- Lights Out

    Oct 14 2014

    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 →

  • 135- For Amusement Only

    Oct 07 2014

    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 →

  • 134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line

    Sep 30 2014

    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 →

  • 133- Port of Dallas

    Sep 24 2014

    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 →

  • 132- Castle on the Park

    Sep 16 2014

    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 →

  • 131- Genesis Object

    Sep 10 2014

    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 →

  • 130- Holdout

    Sep 02 2014

    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 →

  • 129- Thomassons

    Aug 26 2014

    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 →

  • 128- Hacking IKEA

    Aug 19 2014

    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 →

  • 127- The Sound of Sports

    Aug 12 2014

    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 →

  • 126- Walk This Way

    Aug 05 2014

    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 →

  • 125- Duplitecture

    Jul 29 2014

    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 →

  • 124- Longbox

    Jul 22 2014

    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.

  • 123- Snowflake

    Jul 15 2014

    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 →

  • 122- Good Egress

    Jul 08 2014

    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 →

  • 121- Cold War Kids

    Jul 01 2014

    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 →

  • 120- Skyjacking

    Jun 24 2014

    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 →

  • 119- Feet of Engineering

    Jun 17 2014

    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 →

  • 118- Song Exploder

    Jun 10 2014

    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 →

  • 117- Clean Trains

    Jun 03 2014

    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 →

  • 116- Breaking the Bank

    May 27 2014

    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 →

  • 115- Cow Tunnels

    May 20 2014

    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 →

  • 114- Ten Thousand Years

    May 13 2014

    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 →

  • 113- Monumental Dilemma

    May 06 2014

    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 →

  • 112- Young Ruin

    Apr 29 2014

    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 →

  • 111- Masters of the Uni-verse

    Apr 22 2014

    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 →

  • 110- Structural Integrity

    Apr 15 2014

    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 →

  • 109- Title TK

    Apr 08 2014

    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 →

  • 108- Barcodes

    Apr 01 2014

    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 →

  • 107- Call Now

    Mar 25 2014

    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 →

  • 106- The Fancy Shape

    Mar 18 2014

    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 →

  • 105- One Man is An Island

    Mar 11 2014

    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 →

  • 104- Tunnel 57

    Mar 05 2014

    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 →

  • 103- UTBAPH

    Feb 25 2014

    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 →

  • 102- Icon for Access

    Feb 18 2014

    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 →

  • 101- Cover Story

    Feb 11 2014

    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 →

  • 100- Higher And Higher

    Feb 04 2014

    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 →

  • 99- The View From The 79th Floor

    Jan 15 2014

    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 →

  • 98- Six Stories- the memory palace

    Jan 03 2014

    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 →

  • 97- Numbers Stations

    Dec 20 2013

    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 →

  • 96- DIY Space Suit

    Dec 03 2013

    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 →

  • 95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue

    Nov 21 2013

    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 →

  • 94- Unbuilt

    Nov 13 2013

    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 →

  • 93- Revolving Doors

    Nov 06 2013

    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 →

  • 92- All the Buildings

    Oct 29 2013

    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 →

  • Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes

    Oct 23 2013

    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 →

  • 91- Wild Ones Live

    Oct 14 2013

    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 →

  • 90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux

    Oct 02 2013

    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 →

  • 89- Bubble Houses

    Sep 17 2013

    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 →

  • 88- The Broadcast Clock

    Sep 03 2013

    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 →

  • 87- I Heart NY, TM

    Aug 22 2013

    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 →

  • 86- Reversal of Fortune

    Aug 09 2013

    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 →

  • 85- Noble Effort

    Jul 29 2013

    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 →

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

    Jul 15 2013

    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 →

  • 83- Heyoon

    Jul 02 2013

    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 →

  • 82- The Man of Tomorrow

    Jun 20 2013

    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 →

  • 81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge

    Jun 07 2013

    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 →

  • 80- An Architect’s Code

    May 28 2013

    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 →

  • 79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design

    May 08 2013

    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 →

  • 78- No Armed Bandit

    Apr 30 2013

    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 →

  • 77- Game Changer

    Apr 15 2013

    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 →

  • 76- The Modern Moloch

    Apr 04 2013

    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 →

  • 99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases

    Mar 21 2013

    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 →

  • 99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs

    Mar 08 2013

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

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

    Feb 18 2013

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

  • 99% Invisible-72- New Old Town

    Feb 05 2013

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

  • 99% Invisible-71- In and Out of LOVE

    Jan 23 2013

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

  • 99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

    Jan 11 2013

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

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

    Dec 31 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-68- Built for Speed

    Dec 12 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-67- Broken Window

    Nov 29 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-66- Kowloon Walled City

    Nov 19 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-65- Razzle Dazzle

    Nov 05 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-64- Derelict Dome

    Oct 25 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-63- The Political Stage

    Oct 12 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-62- Q2

    Oct 02 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-61- A Series of Tubes

    Sep 20 2012

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

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

    Sep 10 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-60a- Two Storeys

    Aug 22 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-60- Names vs The Nothing

    Aug 06 2012

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

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

    Jul 25 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-58- Purple Reign

    Jul 13 2012

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

  • Kickstarter Video for Season 3 of 99% Invisible

    Jul 12 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-57- What Gave You That Idea

    Jun 28 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-56- Frozen Music

    Jun 14 2012

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

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

    May 31 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-54- The Colour of Money

    May 16 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-53- The Xanadu Effect

    May 01 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-52- Galloping Gertie

    Apr 18 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

    Apr 03 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-50- DeafSpace

    Mar 22 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-49- Queue Theory and Design

    Mar 09 2012

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

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

    Feb 26 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-47- US Postal Service Stamps

    Feb 10 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-46- Vulcanite Dentures

    Jan 27 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-45- Immersive Ideal

    Jan 18 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-44- The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

    Jan 06 2012

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

  • 99% Invisible-43- Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators

    Dec 19 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-42- Recognizably Anonymous

    Dec 09 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-41- The Human-Human Interface

    Dec 03 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-40- Billy Possum

    Nov 23 2011

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

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

    Nov 18 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-39- Darth Vader Family Courthouse

    Oct 28 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-38- Sound of Sport

    Oct 13 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

    Sep 29 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-36- Super Bon Bonn

    Sep 16 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-35- Elegy for WTC

    Sep 01 2011

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

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

    Aug 19 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-33- A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll

    Aug 04 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-32- Design for Airports

    Jul 28 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-31- Feltron Annual Report

    Jul 14 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn

    Jul 01 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-29- Cul de Sac

    Jun 17 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-28- Movie Title Sequences

    Jun 10 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-27- Bridge to the Sky

    Jun 03 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-26- Chicago’s Jailhouse Skyscraper

    May 20 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-25- Unsung Icons of Soviet Design

    May 13 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-24- The Capitol Columns

    May 06 2011

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

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

    Apr 22 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-22- Free Speech Monument

    Apr 15 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-21- BLDGBLOG: On Sound

    Apr 01 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-20- Nikko Concrete Commando

    Mar 25 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-19X- RJDJ Reactive Music

    Mar 21 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-19- Liberation Squares plus NY Dick

    Mar 11 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-18- Check Cashing Stores

    Mar 04 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-17- Concrete Furniture

    Feb 25 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-16- A Designed Language

    Feb 18 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-15- Sounds of the Artificial World

    Feb 11 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-14- Periodic Table

    Feb 04 2011

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

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

    Jan 07 2011

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

  • 99% Invisible-13- Maps

    Dec 17 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-12- 99% Guilt Free

    Dec 03 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-11- 99% Undesigned

    Nov 25 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-10- 99% Sound and Feel

    Nov 19 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-09X-99% Doomed

    Nov 13 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-09- 99% Private

    Nov 05 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-08- 99% Free Parking

    Oct 29 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-07- 99% Alien

    Oct 14 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-06- 99% Symbolic

    Oct 07 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-05- 99% Forgotten

    Oct 01 2010

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

  • 99% Invisible-04- 99% Details

    Sep 24 2010

    It’s a stick with bristles poking out of it. It doesn’t even qualify as a simple machine, but the careful thought and design that went into the creation of the modern, angled bristle, fat handled toothbrush shows just how much … Continue reading →

  • 99% Invisible-03- 99% Reality (only)

    Sep 24 2010

    There’s not much that we can do about all the physical matter that’s been designed and built by someone else. It is the way it is. But with the advent of portable devices with GPS, a compass, and a network, … Continue reading →

  • 99% Invisible-02- 99% 180

    Sep 23 2010

    In the beginning, former AIA-SF president Henrik Bull and the Transamerica Pyramid did not get along. The building was an affront to late 1960’s modernist ideals. It was silly. It looked like a dunce cap. Its large scale had no … Continue reading →

  • 99% Invisible-01- 99% Noise

    Sep 23 2010

    This episode of 99% Invisible is all about acoustic design, the city soundscape, and how to make listening in shared spaces pleasant (or at the very least, possible). It features an interview with Dennis Paoletti from Shen Milsom & Wilke.