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229- The Trend Forecast

Episode description

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 →

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Bonus Episode- Avery talks Articles of Interest with Roman

December 14th, 2018

11:03

332- The Accidental Room

December 12th, 2018

34:37

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 …

331- Oñate's Foot

December 5th, 2018

43:11

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, …

330- Raccoon Resistance

November 27th, 2018

25:54

After Toronto unveiled its "raccoon-resistant" compost bins in 2016, some people feared the animals would be starved, but many more …

201- The Green Book redux

November 21st, 2018

27:30

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 …

329- Orphan Drugs

November 14th, 2018

27:39

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 …

328- Devolutionary Design

November 6th, 2018

32:50

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 …

327- A Year in the Dark

October 31st, 2018

32:24

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 …

326- Welcome to Jurassic Art

October 23rd, 2018

28:42

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 …

325- The Worst Way to Start a City

October 16th, 2018

31:07

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 …

Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6

October 12th, 2018

30:48

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 …

Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5

October 9th, 2018

26:10

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 …

Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

October 5th, 2018

23:18

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 …

Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

October 2nd, 2018

21:13

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 …

Plaid: Articles of Interest #2

September 28th, 2018

18:55

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 …

Kids' Clothes: Articles of Interest #1

September 25th, 2018

23:52

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 …

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

September 19th, 2018

28:49

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 …

323- The House that Came in the Mail

September 11th, 2018

32:11

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 …

322- The First Straw

September 5th, 2018

24:49

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 …

321- Double Standards

August 29th, 2018

25:41

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 …

320- Bundyville

August 21st, 2018

42:43

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 …

319- It's Chinatown

August 14th, 2018

35:53

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 …

318- Fire and Rain

August 8th, 2018

30:25

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 …

317- Built to Burn

August 1st, 2018

31:54

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 …

316- The Shipping Forecast

July 25th, 2018

27:53

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 …

315- Everything is Alive

July 18th, 2018

32:03

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 …

314- Interrobang

July 10th, 2018

32:05

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 …

Roman Mars on ZigZag

July 5th, 2018

31:30

This is a special presentation of episode #4 of Radiotopia's newest show ZigZag.

Manoush and Jen give themselves 36 hours in San Francisco …

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

July 4th, 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 …

313- Right to Roam

June 27th, 2018

28:21

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 …

312- Post-Narco Urbanism

June 20th, 2018

37:24

In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord, had effectively declared war on the Colombian state. At one point, his cartel was …

311- The Barney Design

June 13th, 2018

22:36

Until the early 90s, basketball uniforms were pretty tame. There had been real limits to what could be done with jerseys. All the …

310- 77 Steps

June 6th, 2018

23:57

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 …

309- The Vault

May 30th, 2018

27:06

Svalbard is a remote Norwegian archipelago with reindeer, Arctic foxes and only around 2,500 humans -- but it is also home to a vault …

308- Curb Cuts

May 23rd, 2018

45:14

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, …

307- Immobile Homes

May 16th, 2018

28:50

"Part of the paradox at the heart of manufactured housing," explains Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver "is …

306- Breaking Bad News

May 9th, 2018

39:03

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 …

305- The Laff Box

May 1st, 2018

39:58

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 …

304- Gander International Airport

April 25th, 2018

25:22

The Gander Airport in Newfoundland was once the easternmost airfield in North America, so when transatlantic air travel was new and …

303- The Hair Chart

April 17th, 2018

23:10

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 …

302- Lessons from Las Vegas

April 10th, 2018

33:19

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 …

301- Making it Rain

April 3rd, 2018

28:22

300- Airships and the Future that Never Was

March 27th, 2018

19:13

They are hulking, but graceful -- human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the …

299- Gerrymandering

March 21st, 2018

44:51

The way we draw our political districts has a huge effect on U.S. politics, but the process is also greatly misunderstood. Gerrymandering …

200- Miss Manhattan Redux

March 14th, 2018

24:15

All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She …

298- Fordlandia

March 7th, 2018

30:11

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 …

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

February 28th, 2018

33:01

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. …

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

February 21st, 2018

23:29

After World War 2, city planners in Amsterdam wanted to design the perfect “City of the Future.” They decided to build a new neighborhood, …

295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

February 13th, 2018

27:11

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 …

294- Border Wall

February 6th, 2018

28:48

When current President Donald Trump took office, he promised to build an “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern …

293- Managed Retreat

January 31st, 2018

31:42

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 …

292- Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud

January 23rd, 2018

31:36

Cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud has been making and thinking about comics for decades. He is the author of Understanding Comics: The …

291- Thermal Delight

January 17th, 2018

28:40

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, …

290- Mini-Stories: Volume 4

January 10th, 2018

39:48

This part two of the 2017/2018 mini-stories episodes, where Roman interviews the staff and our collaborators about their favorite little …

Biomimicry- Vox + 99% Invisible Video

January 2nd, 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 …

289- Mini-Stories: Volume 3

December 20th, 2017

37:47

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, …

288- Guerrilla Public Service Redux

December 12th, 2017

20:39

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, …

287- The Nut Behind the Wheel

December 5th, 2017

31:35

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 …

286- A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream

November 28th, 2017

53:48

While the 1960s shift in print and TV advertising has been heavily documented and mythologized by Mad Men, Madison Avenue’s radiophonic …

285- Money Makers

November 21st, 2017

19:53

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 …

284- Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television

November 14th, 2017

26:35

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 …

283- Dollhouses of St. Louis

November 7th, 2017

27:55

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 …

282- Oyster-tecture

October 31st, 2017

29:05

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 …

281- La Sagrada Familia

October 25th, 2017

31:40

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 …

280- Half Measures

October 18th, 2017

25:38

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 …

279- The Containment Plan

October 11th, 2017

24:35

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 …

278- The Athletic Brassiere

October 3rd, 2017

23:35

Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title …

277- Ponte City Tower

September 26th, 2017

29:06

Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something …

276- The Finnish Experiment

September 19th, 2017

28:38

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 …

275- Coal Hogs Work Safe

September 12th, 2017

19:23

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 …

274- The Age of the Algorithm

September 5th, 2017

21:02

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 …

273- Notes on an Imagined Plaque

August 29th, 2017

13:02

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 …

272- Person in Lotus Position

August 22nd, 2017

27:57

Tech analysts estimate that over six billion emojis are sent each day. Emojis, which started off as a collection of low-resolution pixelated …

271- The Great Dismal Swamp

August 15th, 2017

24:24

On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British …

270- The Stethoscope

August 9th, 2017

19:09

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 …

269- Ways of Hearing

August 1st, 2017

37:31

When the tape started rolling in old analog recording studios, there was a feeling that musicians were about to capture a particular moment. …

268- El Gordo

July 25th, 2017

22:50

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 …

267- The Trials of Dan and Dave

July 18th, 2017

52:10

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 …

266- Repackaging the Pill

July 11th, 2017

17:49

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 …

265- The Pool and the Stream

July 4th, 2017

30:30

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 …

264- Mexico 68

June 27th, 2017

21:55

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 …

263- You Should Do a Story

June 20th, 2017

25:34

“You should do a story…” is the first line to a lot of the conversations you have when you work at 99pi. This week we look into a bunch of …

262- In the Same Ballpark

June 13th, 2017

24:41

In the 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their baseball season at a brand new stadium called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, right along the …

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

June 8th, 2017

11:23

Special introductory episode to a new podcast produced by Roman Mars and Elizabeth Joh. Professor Elizabeth Joh teaches Intro to Constitutional Law and most of the time this is a pretty straight forward job. …

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

June 7th, 2017

19:37

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the …

261- Squatters of the Lower East Side

May 30th, 2017

22:55

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

260- New Jersey

May 23rd, 2017

19:12

The Brazilian soccer shirt is iconic. Its bright canary yellow with green trim, worn with blue shorts, is known worldwide. The uniform is …

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

May 16th, 2017

27:13

This episode was recorded live as part of the Radiotopia West Coast Tour. It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had …

258- The Modern Necropolis

May 9th, 2017

17:36

In the town of Colma, California, the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. Located just ten miles south of San Francisco, Colma …

257- Reversing the Grid

May 2nd, 2017

25:28

For most people, electricity only flows one way (into the home), but there are exceptions — people who use solar panels, for instance. In …

256- Sounds Natural

April 18th, 2017

22:42

In most wildlife films, the sounds you hear were not recorded while the cameras were rolling. Most filmmakers use long telephoto lenses to …

255- The Architect of Hollywood

April 11th, 2017

19:47

Los Angeles is rich with architectural diversity. On the same block, you could find a retro-futuristic Googie diner next to a Spanish-style …

254- Containers

April 4th, 2017

30:27

We’re based in beautiful downtown Oakland, CA which is a port city in the San Francisco Bay. Massive container ships travel across the …

253- Manzanar

March 28th, 2017

23:55

252- The Falling of the Lenins

March 21st, 2017

22:53

On the night of December 8, 2013, a huge crowd gathered on a tree-lined boulevard in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. The crowd was there to watch as …

251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

March 14th, 2017

44:34

Logos used to be a thing people didn’t really give much thought to. But over the last decade, the volume and intensity of arguments about …

250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)

March 8th, 2017

27:56

In the 1980s, the United States experienced a refugee crisis. Thousands of Central Americans were fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling north through Mexico, and crossing the border into …

249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)

February 28th, 2017

26:41

In the 1980s, Rev. John Fife and his congregation at Southside Presbyterian Church began to help Central American migrants fleeing …

248- Atom in the Garden of Eden

February 21st, 2017

17:57

As the world entered the Atomic Age, humankind faced a new fear that permeated just about every aspect of daily life: the threat of nuclear …

247- Usonia the Beautiful

February 15th, 2017

18:41

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the buildings we live in shape the kinds of people we become. His aim was nothing short of rebuilding the …

246- Usonia 1

February 7th, 2017

24:39

Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. …

245- The Eponymist

February 1st, 2017

27:58

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

244- The Revolutionary Post

January 24th, 2017

17:52

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

243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

January 18th, 2017

19:40

On January 3, 1979, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department went to the home of Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother. …

242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2

January 10th, 2017

29:36

Part 2 where host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about …

241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1

December 20th, 2016

27:17

Host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and …

240- Plat of Zion

December 14th, 2016

17:00

The urban grid of Salt Lake City, Utah is designed to tell you exactly where you are in relation to Temple Square, one of the holiest sites for …

239- Guano Island

December 6th, 2016

18:45

In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time. The expansion closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed …

238- NBC Chimes

November 29th, 2016

13:02

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

237- Dollar Store Town

November 23rd, 2016

15:58

Dollar stores are not just a U.S. phenomenon. They can be found in Australia and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Mexico. And a lot of the …

236- Reverb

November 16th, 2016

18:48

Through a combination of passive and active acoustics, architects and acousticians can control the sounds of spaces to fit any kind of need. With …

235- Ten Letters for the President

November 8th, 2016

13:59

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

234- The Shift

November 1st, 2016

16:21

Every now and again, a truly great athlete shatters all previous assumptions about what’s possible to achieve in a sport. When this happens, opposing …

233- Space Trash, Space Treasure

October 25th, 2016

16:34

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

232- McMansion Hell

October 18th, 2016

13:19

Few forms of contemporary architecture draw as much criticism as the McMansion, a particular type of oversized house that people love to hate. …

231- Half a House

October 11th, 2016

18:02

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

230- Project Cybersyn

October 4th, 2016

21:02

On September 11, 1973, a military junta violently took control of Chile, which was led at the time by President Salvador Allende. Allende had become …

124- Longbox

September 27th, 2016

18:29

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

228- Making Up Ground

September 13th, 2016

18:46

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

227- Public Works

September 6th, 2016

13:19

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

226- On Average

August 23rd, 2016

17:40

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

225- Photo Credit

August 17th, 2016

18:39

Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus school in Germany would go on to shape modern architecture, art, and design for decades to …

224- A Sea Worth its Salt

August 9th, 2016

17:34

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

223- The Magic Bureaucrat

August 3rd, 2016

32:42

In 1996, President Bill Clinton and the Congress undertook a reform effort to redesign the welfare system from one that many believed trapped people …

222- Combat Hearing Loss

July 26th, 2016

16:17

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

221- America’s Last Top Model

July 19th, 2016

19:21

In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a scale model that could test flooding in all 1.25 million square miles of the Mississippi …

220- The Mind of an Architect

July 13th, 2016

21:30

In the late 1950s, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research embarked on a mission to study the personalities of particularly creative …

219- Unpleasant Design

July 6th, 2016

13:59

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

218- Remembering Stonewall

June 29th, 2016

26:31

It started with a place called the Stonewall Inn. Gay bars had been raided by police for decades. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people had …

217- Home on Lagrange

June 22nd, 2016

26:07

In 1968, an Italian industrialist and a Scottish scientist started a club to address what they considered to be humankind’s greatest problems—issues …

216- The Blazer Experiment

June 14th, 2016

21:41

In 1968, the police department in Menlo Park, California hired a new police chief. His name was Victor Cizanckas and his main goal was to reform the …

215- H-Day

June 7th, 2016

15:57

September 3rd, 1967, also known as H-Day, is etched in the collective memory of Sweden. That morning, millions of Swedes switched from driving on the …

130- Holdout

May 31st, 2016

16:04

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and …

214- Loud and Clear

May 25th, 2016

18:34

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

213- Separation Anxiety

May 18th, 2016

15:56

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

212- Turf Wars of East New York

May 11th, 2016

27:26

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

211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street

May 4th, 2016

19:29

The Bellevue-Stratford opened in 1904 and quickly became one of the most luxurious hotels of its time, rivaling the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The building was an incredible work of French Renaissance architecture. It …

210- Unseen City

April 27th, 2016

26:30

Humans form cities from concrete, metal, and glass, designing structures and infrastructure primarily to serve a single bipedal species. Walking down a familiar city street, it is easy to overlook squirrels climbing in …

209- Supertall 101

April 20th, 2016

15:56

Starting in the late 1990s, the government of Taipei began looking into how they could turn global attention to their city, the capital of the small …

208- Vox Ex Machina

April 13th, 2016

22:17

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

207- Soul City

April 6th, 2016

30:58

In the late 1960s, a civil rights leader named Floyd B. McKissick, at one time the head of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) proposed an idea …

206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv

March 30th, 2016

34:47

Israeli buses regularly make international headlines, be it for suicide bombings, fights over gender segregation, or clashes concerning Shabbat …

205- Flying Food

March 23rd, 2016

14:58

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

204- The SoHo Effect

March 16th, 2016

17:31

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

203- The Giftschrank

March 9th, 2016

18:03

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

202- Mojave Phone Booth

March 2nd, 2016

18:35

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

Video- The Norman Door with Vox

February 27th, 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 …

201- The Green Book

February 24th, 2016

19:49

The middle of the 20th Century was a golden age for road travel in the United States. Cars had become cheap and spacious enough to carry families …

200- Miss Manhattan

February 17th, 2016

16:50

All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She has gone …

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

February 10th, 2016

19:17

In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of …

198- The Ice King

February 3rd, 2016

15:51

In the mid-19th century, decades before home refrigeration became the norm, you could find ice clinking in glasses from India to the Caribbean, …

197- Fish Cannon

January 27th, 2016

16:02

The Iron Curtain was an 8,000-mile border separating East from West during the Cold War. Something unexpected evolved in the “no man’s land” that the …

196- The Fresno Drop

January 20th, 2016

13:47

In September 1958, Bank of America began an experiment – one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and on the economy. They decided after …

195- Best Enjoyed By

January 13th, 2016

13:44

Date labels (e.g. “use-by”, “sell-by”, “best-by”, “best if used by,” “expires on”, etc.) are on a lot of products. Forty-one states require a date label on at least some food product, but there are huge inconsistencies, …

194- Bone Music

December 22nd, 2015

11:12

In 1950s Soviet Russia, citizens craved Western popular music—everything from jazz to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and …

193- Tube Benders

December 16th, 2015

14:39

The skyline of beautiful downtown Oakland, California, is defined by various towers by day, but at night there is one that shines far more brightly …

192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates

December 8th, 2015

21:14

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

191- Worst Smell in the World

December 2nd, 2015

12:35

Many material trifles, such as Silly Putty, started as attempts at serious inventions, but in rare cases, the process works in reverse: something …

190- Fixing the Hobo Suit

November 24th, 2015

18:09

Superhero costumes for TV and film used to be pretty cringe-worthy. Lately, however, super outfits are looking much better. Costume designers are …

189- The Landlord’s Game

November 18th, 2015

13:48

From rock-paper-scissors, to tennis, to Mario Kart, every game is a designed system and all games are grounded in the same design principles. One …

188- Fountain Drinks

November 10th, 2015

30:25

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

187- Butterfly Effects

November 4th, 2015

15:43

Ballots are an essential component to a working democracy, yet they are rarely created (or even reviewed) by design professionals. Good ballot design …

186- War and Pizza

October 28th, 2015

16:12

Households tend to take pantry food for granted, but canned beans, powered cheese, and bags of moist cookies were not designed for everyday …

185- Atmospherians

October 20th, 2015

18:22

The phrase ‘from Central Casting’ has become a kind of cultural shorthand for a stereotype or archetype, a subject so visually suited to its part it …

110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)

October 14th, 2015

23:17

99% Invisible is honored to accept a 2015 Third Coast International Audio Festival award for Structural Integrity, a story of architectural engineering gone wrong, and then covertly made right. When it was built in …

184- Rajneeshpuram

October 7th, 2015

28:20

Indian philosopher and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a vision: he would build a Utopian city from the ground up, starting with 64,000 acres of …

183- Dead Letter Office

September 30th, 2015

16:12

When something is lost in the mail, it feels like it has disappeared into the ether, like it was sucked into a black hole, like it no longer exists. …

182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

September 23rd, 2015

14:22

On the night of March 30, 2005, the Powerball jackpot was 25 million dollars. The grand prize winner was in Tennessee, but all over the United …

181- Milk Carton Kids

September 15th, 2015

16:21

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

180- Reefer Madness

September 9th, 2015

14:54

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

179- Bathysphere

September 2nd, 2015

21:13

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

178- The Great Restoration

August 26th, 2015

29:05

Stirling, Scotland is the home of Stirling Castle, which sits atop a giant crag, or hill, overlooking the whole town of Stirling. There has been a …

177- Lawn Order

August 19th, 2015

16:21

In communities across America, lawns that are brown or overgrown are considered especially heinous. Elite squads of dedicated individuals have been deputized by their local governments or homeowners’ associations to …

176- Hard to Love a Brute

August 12th, 2015

16:59

No matter which James Bond actor is your favorite, it’s undeniable that the Sean Connery films had the best villains. There’s Blofeld, who turned cat-stroking into a thing that super-villains do, and then there’s …

175- The Sunshine Hotel

August 5th, 2015

26:38

The Bowery, in lower Manhattan, is one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods. It’s been through a lot of iterations. In the 1650s, a handful of freed …

174- From the Sea, Freedom

July 29th, 2015

18:13

In 1933, delegates from the United States and fourteen other countries met in Montevideo, Uruguay to define what it means to be a state. The …

173- Awareness

July 22nd, 2015

16:33

172- On Location

July 15th, 2015

14:03

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

171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)

July 1st, 2015

21:36

More than 90% of all automobile accidents are all attributable to human error, for some car industry people, a fully-automated car is a kind of holy …

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

June 24th, 2015

28:58

On the evening of May 31, 2009, 216 passengers, three pilots, and nine flight attendants boarded an Airbus 330 in Rio de Janeiro. This flight, Air France 447, was headed across to Paris. Everything proceeded normally …

169- Freud’s Couch

June 17th, 2015

13:19

Sigmund Freud’s ground-breaking techniques and theories for therapy came to be called “psychoanalysis,” and it was embodied, in practice and popular …

168- All In Your Head

June 10th, 2015

30:05

167- Voices in the Wire

June 3rd, 2015

38:02

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

166- Viva La Arquitectura!

May 27th, 2015

19:04

On January 3rd, 1961, Che Guevara suggested to Fidel Castro that they go play a round of golf. They drove out to what was then the ritziest, most …

165- The Nutshell Studies

May 20th, 2015

23:15

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

164- The Post-Billiards Age

May 13th, 2015

13:14

163- The Gruen Effect

May 6th, 2015

15:28

Retail spaces are designed for impulse shopping. When you go to a store looking for socks and come out with a new shirt, it’s only partly your fault. …

162- Mystery House

April 28th, 2015

16:04

According to legend, Sarah Winchester’s friends advised the grieving widow to seek the services of a Boston spiritual medium named Adam Koombs. The story goes, Koombs put Mrs. Winchester in touch with her deceased …

161- Show of Force

April 22nd, 2015

19:59

During World War II, a massive recruitment effort targeted students from the top art schools across the country. These young designers, artists, and …

160- Perfect Security

April 15th, 2015

14:42

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one …

159- The Calendar

April 8th, 2015

16:09

158- Sandhogs

March 31st, 2015

24:07

Eighty years ago, New York City needed another tunnel under the Hudson River. The Holland Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge could no longer …

54- The Colour of Money (R)

March 25th, 2015

21:00

United States paper currency is so ubiquitous that to really look at its graphic design with fresh eyes requires some deliberate and focused …

157- Devil’s Rope

March 18th, 2015

20:20

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

156- Coin Check

March 11th, 2015

15:34

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

155- Palm Reading

March 4th, 2015

13:23

Reports of palm theft have appeared in LA, San Diego, and Texas; palm rustling also gets a mention in Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. To understand …

154- PDX Carpet

February 24th, 2015

14:23

Portlanders have a tradition when visiting their airport: taking a picture of their feet. It’s not to show off their shoes, but rather, what’s under …

153- Game Over (R)

February 18th, 2015

9:39

A few months before the end of the world, everyone was saying their goodbyes. The world that was ending was The Sims Online, an online version of The …

152- Guerrilla Public Service

February 11th, 2015

12:41

151- La Mascotte

February 3rd, 2015

15:55

The idea of the mascot came to America by way of a popular French opera from the 1880s called La Mascotte. The opera is about a down-on-his luck …

150- Under The Moonlight

January 28th, 2015

14:47

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

149- Of Mice And Men

January 21st, 2015

17:16

148- The Sizzle

January 14th, 2015

13:04

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

147- Penn Station Sucks

January 7th, 2015

16:45

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

146- Mooallempalooza

December 31st, 2014

41:48

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

145- Octothorpe

December 17th, 2014

14:26

If you want to follow conversation threads relating to this show on social media—whether Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, Tumblr—you know to look for …

144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

December 10th, 2014

12:37

Hanging in the garage of Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California, there’s a small, pear-shaped light bulb. It is glowing right now. This lightbulb …

143- Inflatable Men

December 3rd, 2014

14:01

142- And The Winner Is

November 26th, 2014

13:49

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

141- Three Records from Sundown

November 19th, 2014

29:10

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

140- Vexillonaire

November 12th, 2014

11:38

Vexillologists—those who study flags—tend to fall into one of two schools of thought. The first is one that focuses on history, category, and usage, …

139- Edge of Your Seat

November 4th, 2014

14:58

“A Chair is a difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” — Mies van der Rohe. The chair presents an interesting design challenge, because it …

138- O-U-I-J-A

October 28th, 2014

17:27

137- Good Bread

October 22nd, 2014

15:19

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

Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution

October 19th, 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 …

136- Lights Out

October 14th, 2014

14:52

On July 13th, 1977, lightning struck an electricity transmission line in New York City, causing the line’s automatic circuit breaker to kick in. The …

135- For Amusement Only

October 7th, 2014

13:10

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

134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line

September 30th, 2014

15:53

Straight lines form the core of our built environment. Building in straight lines makes predicting costs and calculating structural loads easier, …

133- Port of Dallas

September 24th, 2014

17:48

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

132- Castle on the Park

September 16th, 2014

16:03

On the southwest corner of Central Park West and 106th Street in New York City, there’s an enormous castle. It takes up the whole east end of the …

131- Genesis Object

September 10th, 2014

12:09

In the beginning, there was design. Before any other human discipline, even before the dawn of mankind its self, design was a practice passed down from generation to generation of early humans. Today, everything that …

130- Holdout

September 2nd, 2014

16:04

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and …

129- Thomassons

August 26th, 2014

12:57

Cities, like living things, evolve slowly over time. Buildings and structures get added and renovated and removed, and in this process, bits and …

128- Hacking IKEA

August 19th, 2014

18:35

IKEA hacking is the practice of buying things from IKEA and reengineering—or “hacking”—them to become customized, more functional, and often just better designed stuff. The locus of the IKEA hacking movement is a …

127- The Sound of Sports

August 12th, 2014

58:53

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

126- Walk This Way

August 5th, 2014

14:20

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

125- Duplitecture

July 29th, 2014

10:32

The best knock-offs in the world are in China. There are plenty of fake designer handbags and Rolexes, but China’s knock-offs go way beyond fashion. …

124- Longbox

July 22nd, 2014

16:47

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

123- Snowflake

July 15th, 2014

16:41

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

122- Good Egress

July 8th, 2014

15:46

When designing a commercial structure, there is one safety component that must be designed right into the building from the start: egress. “Egress” refers to an entire exit system from a building: stairs, corridors, and …

121- Cold War Kids

July 1st, 2014

20:53

During the 1961 Berlin Crisis—one of the various moments in the cold war in which we came frighteningly close to engaging in actual war with the …

120- Skyjacking

June 24th, 2014

14:22

The term “hijacking” goes back to prohibition days, when gangsters would rob moonshine trucks saying, “Hold your hands high, Jack!” However, in the …

119- Feet of Engineering

June 17th, 2014

14:12

As a fashion object and symbol, the high heel shoe is weighted with meaning. It’s also weighted with the wearer’s entire body weight. The stiletto …

118- Song Exploder

June 10th, 2014

19:20

99% Invisible presents Song Exploder. A song is a product of design. It’s difficult to create an original melody, but that’s only the blueprint. …

117- Clean Trains

June 3rd, 2014

19:05

In just about every movie set in New York City in the 1970s and 80s there’s an establishing shot with a graffiti-covered subway. For city officials, …

116- Breaking the Bank

May 27th, 2014

18:44

When I go into a bank, especially if I have to stand in line waiting to make a deposit, my mind wanders. And one of the first place it wanders to is: …

115- Cow Tunnels

May 20th, 2014

20:41

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

114- Ten Thousand Years

May 13th, 2014

29:22

In 1990, the federal government invited a group of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers to the New Mexico desert, …

113- Monumental Dilemma

May 6th, 2014

23:13

About ten miles north of Concord, New Hampshire, off of interstate 93 there’s a little island with a great, big monument on it. The monument depicts …

112- Young Ruin

April 29th, 2014

18:37

If you’ve wandered around Machu Picchu, or Stonehenge, or the Colosseum, or even snuck into that abandoned house on the edge of town, you know the …

111- Masters of the Uni-verse

April 22nd, 2014

15:49

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

110- Structural Integrity

April 15th, 2014

23:17

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

109- Title TK

April 8th, 2014

15:44

108- Barcodes

April 1st, 2014

16:57

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

107- Call Now

March 25th, 2014

18:52

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

106- The Fancy Shape

March 18th, 2014

14:11

Quatrefoil is the name of the four-lobed cloverleaf shape. It’s everywhere: adorning Gothic cathedrals, more modern churches, Rhode Island mansions, mission-style roofs in California, and decorating victorian homes from …

105- One Man is An Island

March 11th, 2014

18:09

A few years ago, reporter Sean Cole was working on a radio story and needed to interview the rapper Busta Rhymes. Sean was living in Boston at the …

104- Tunnel 57

March 5th, 2014

20:02

103- UTBAPH

February 25th, 2014

15:50

It started with some Pittsburgh humor. Pittsburgh-based comedian Tom Muisal does a bit about a GPS unit that can give directions in “Pittsburghese.” Because in Pittsburgh, no one calls it “Interstate 376,” it’s “The …

102- Icon for Access

February 18th, 2014

13:54

There is a beauty to a universal standard. The idea that people across the world can agree that when they interact with one specific thing, everyone …

101- Cover Story

February 11th, 2014

17:37

You know the saying: you can’t judge a book by its cover. With magazines, it’s pretty much the opposite. The cover of a magazine is the unified …

100- Higher And Higher

February 4th, 2014

16:40

Like the best of these stories, the two bitter rivals started out as best friends: William Van Alen and Craig Severance. They were business partners. Van Alen was considered the artistic maverick and Severance was the …

99- The View From The 79th Floor

January 15th, 2014

14:52

On July 28, 1945, an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. A B-25 bomber was flying a routine mission, chartering servicemen from …

98- Six Stories- the memory palace

January 3rd, 2014

19:19

Elevators are old. They would have to be. Because it is in our nature to rise. History is full of things that lift other things. In ancient Greece, …

97- Numbers Stations

December 20th, 2013

21:52

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

96- DIY Space Suit

December 3rd, 2013

12:58

Cameron Smith is building a space suit in his apartment. He’s not an astronaut. He’s not even an engineer. Cameron Smith is an archaeologist–on …

95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue

November 21st, 2013

19:54

We have seen the future, and the future is mostly blue. Or, put another way: in our representations of the future in science fiction movies, blue …

94- Unbuilt

November 13th, 2013

19:17

There is an allure in unbuilt structures: the utopian, futuristic transports, the impossibly tall skyscrapers, even the horrible highways, all …

93- Revolving Doors

November 6th, 2013

14:18

The story goes like this: Theophilus Van Kannel hated chivalry. There was nothing he despised more than trying to walk in or out of a building, and …

92- All the Buildings

October 29th, 2013

17:08

I love those moments when you’re walking in your neighborhood and suddenly nothing is familiar. In a good way. Sean Cole began seeing his …

Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes

October 23rd, 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 …

91- Wild Ones Live

October 14th, 2013

30:17

We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible: No cardinals. Meaning, we deal with the built world, not the natural world. So, when I read Jon …

90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux

October 2nd, 2013

22:56

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

89- Bubble Houses

September 17th, 2013

23:33

88- The Broadcast Clock

September 3rd, 2013

14:48

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

87- I Heart NY, TM

August 22nd, 2013

17:17

86- Reversal of Fortune

August 9th, 2013

18:56

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

85- Noble Effort

July 29th, 2013

16:17

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

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

July 15th, 2013

26:27

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

83- Heyoon

July 2nd, 2013

26:36

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Alex Goldman was a misfit. Bored and disaffected and angry, he longed for a place to escape to. And then he found …

82- The Man of Tomorrow

June 20th, 2013

11:18

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

81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge

June 7th, 2013

10:47

There’s something about rebar that fascinates me. If nothing else because there are very few things that invoke a fear of being skewered. My preoccupation with metal reinforcement bars dovetails nicely with a structure …

80- An Architect’s Code

May 28th, 2013

16:39

Lawyers have an ethics code. Journalists have an ethics code. Architects do, too. According to Ethical Standard 1.4 of the American Institute of …

79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design

May 8th, 2013

23:38

For the ancient Greeks, sirens were mythical creatures who sang out to passing sailors from rocks in the sea. Their music was so beautiful, it was …

78- No Armed Bandit

April 30th, 2013

17:32

Americans have always had an uneasy relationship with gambling. To circumvent anti-gambling laws in the US, early slot machines masqueraded as vending machines. They gave out chewing gum as prizes, and those prizes …

77- Game Changer

April 15th, 2013

11:03

Regardless of how you feel about basketball, you’ve got to appreciate the way it can bring groups of strangers together to share moments of pure …

76- The Modern Moloch

April 4th, 2013

21:50

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go …

99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases

March 21st, 2013

10:36

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

99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs

March 8th, 2013

11:40

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, …

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

February 18th, 2013

10:53

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 …

99% Invisible-72- New Old Town

February 5th, 2013

17:41

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 …

99% Invisible-71- In and Out of LOVE

January 23rd, 2013

16:02

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, …

99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

January 11th, 2013

12:29

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 …

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

December 31st, 2012

23:24

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 …

99% Invisible-68- Built for Speed

December 12th, 2012

10:04

99% Invisible-67- Broken Window

November 29th, 2012

10:29

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? …

99% Invisible-66- Kowloon Walled City

November 19th, 2012

14:54

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 …

99% Invisible-65- Razzle Dazzle

November 5th, 2012

9:56

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 …

99% Invisible-64- Derelict Dome

October 25th, 2012

13:46

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. …

99% Invisible-63- The Political Stage

October 12th, 2012

12:29

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 …

99% Invisible-62- Q2

October 2nd, 2012

13:10

Benjamen Walker had a theory that priority queues are changing the American experience of waiting in line. So he visited amusement parks, highways, …

99% Invisible-61- A Series of Tubes

September 20th, 2012

15:57

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 …

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

September 10th, 2012

12:28

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 …

99% Invisible-60a- Two Storeys

August 22nd, 2012

8:20

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 …

99% Invisible-60- Names vs The Nothing

August 6th, 2012

12:47

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” …

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

July 25th, 2012

16:43

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 …

99% Invisible-58- Purple Reign

July 13th, 2012

19:01

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 …

Kickstarter Video for Season 3 of 99% Invisible

July 12th, 2012

99% Invisible-57- What Gave You That Idea

June 28th, 2012

14:57

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? …

99% Invisible-56- Frozen Music

June 14th, 2012

10:52

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 …

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

May 31st, 2012

13:49

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 …

99% Invisible-54- The Colour of Money

May 16th, 2012

17:09

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 …

99% Invisible-53- The Xanadu Effect

May 1st, 2012

11:49

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, …

99% Invisible-52- Galloping Gertie

April 18th, 2012

12:55

Even during the construction of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the deck would go up and down by several feet with the slightest breeze. …

99% Invisible-51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

April 3rd, 2012

11:15

“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 …

99% Invisible-50- DeafSpace

March 22nd, 2012

12:10

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 …

99% Invisible-49- Queue Theory and Design

March 9th, 2012

10:22

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 …

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

February 26th, 2012

11:35

“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, …

99% Invisible-47- US Postal Service Stamps

February 10th, 2012

12:54

99% Invisible-46- Vulcanite Dentures

January 27th, 2012

9:54

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 …

99% Invisible-45- Immersive Ideal

January 18th, 2012

12:33

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. …

99% Invisible-44- The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

January 6th, 2012

11:55

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 …

99% Invisible-43- Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators

December 19th, 2011

7:49

“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 …

99% Invisible-42- Recognizably Anonymous

December 9th, 2011

11:04

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, …

99% Invisible-41- The Human-Human Interface

December 3rd, 2011

5:38

Paola Antonelli is the Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. Her most recent blockbuster show, …

99% Invisible-40- Billy Possum

November 23rd, 2011

12:33

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 …

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

November 18th, 2011

31:45

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 …

99% Invisible-39- Darth Vader Family Courthouse

October 28th, 2011

8:01

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, …

99% Invisible-38- Sound of Sport

October 13th, 2011

5:57

99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

September 29th, 2011

7:47

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. …

99% Invisible-36- Super Bon Bonn

September 16th, 2011

10:23

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. …

99% Invisible-35- Elegy for WTC

September 1st, 2011

6:50

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 …

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

August 19th, 2011

10:27

Last year, Steve Burrows CBE (Principle at the engineering consulting firm Arup) spent several weeks in Egypt studying the pyramids through the eyes …

99% Invisible-33- A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll

August 4th, 2011

7:24

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 …

99% Invisible-32- Design for Airports

July 28th, 2011

8:35

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 …

99% Invisible-31- Feltron Annual Report

July 14th, 2011

10:23

Nicholas Felton is an information designer. Since 2005, he has tabulated thousands upon thousands of tiny measurements in his life and designed …

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn

July 1st, 2011

10:48

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 …

99% Invisible-29- Cul de Sac

June 17th, 2011

12:14

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 …

99% Invisible-28- Movie Title Sequences

June 10th, 2011

9:38

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 …

99% Invisible-27- Bridge to the Sky

June 3rd, 2011

5:12

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 …

99% Invisible-26- Chicago’s Jailhouse Skyscraper

May 20th, 2011

7:49

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It’s a triangle-shaped skyscraper, 27 …

99% Invisible-25- Unsung Icons of Soviet Design

May 13th, 2011

8:28

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 …

99% Invisible-24- The Capitol Columns

May 6th, 2011

6:58

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 …

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

April 22nd, 2011

20:14

youarelistening.to appeared online on March 6, 2011 and I was hooked instantly. The combination of the police scanner and ambient music is an …

99% Invisible-22- Free Speech Monument

April 15th, 2011

8:01

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 …

99% Invisible-21- BLDGBLOG: On Sound

April 1st, 2011

5:50

Most sound design in architecture is centered around designing for silence. Buildings are trying to block out that constant stream noise from the …

99% Invisible-20- Nikko Concrete Commando

March 25th, 2011

7:21

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 …

99% Invisible-19X- RJDJ Reactive Music

March 21st, 2011

9:57

99% Invisible-19- Liberation Squares plus NY Dick

March 11th, 2011

11:14

In a recent piece from Urban Omnibus, Vishaan Chakrabarti (Professor at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia …

99% Invisible-18- Check Cashing Stores

March 4th, 2011

5:34

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 …

99% Invisible-17- Concrete Furniture

February 25th, 2011

7:01

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 …

99% Invisible-16- A Designed Language

February 18th, 2011

6:22

The idea is simple and quite beautiful: if we all shared a second, politically neutral language, people of all different nations and cultures could …

99% Invisible-15- Sounds of the Artificial World

February 11th, 2011

5:19

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 …

99% Invisible-14- Periodic Table

February 4th, 2011

6:28

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 …

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

January 7th, 2011

11:34

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 …

99% Invisible-13- Maps

December 17th, 2010

4:58

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 …

99% Invisible-12- 99% Guilt Free

December 3rd, 2010

4:57

“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 …

99% Invisible-11- 99% Undesigned

November 25th, 2010

4:59

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 …

99% Invisible-10- 99% Sound and Feel

November 19th, 2010

5:20

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 …

99% Invisible-09X-99% Doomed

November 13th, 2010

11:59

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 …

99% Invisible-09- 99% Private

November 5th, 2010

4:58

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 …

99% Invisible-08- 99% Free Parking

October 29th, 2010

5:19

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 …

99% Invisible-07- 99% Alien

October 14th, 2010

4:58

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 …

99% Invisible-06- 99% Symbolic

October 7th, 2010

4:57

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 …

99% Invisible-05- 99% Forgotten

October 1st, 2010

4:58

99% Invisible-04- 99% Details

September 24th, 2010

5:01

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 …

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

September 24th, 2010

4:58

99% Invisible-02- 99% 180

September 23rd, 2010

4:58

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 …

99% Invisible-01- 99% Noise

September 23rd, 2010

4:49

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 …

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