Design  

263- You Should Do a Story

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“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
Design  

262- In the Same Ballpark

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

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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
Design  

261- Squatters of the Lower East Side

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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
Design  

260- New Jersey

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

258- The Modern Necropolis

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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
Design  

257- Reversing the Grid

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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
Design  

256- Sounds Natural

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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
Design  

255- The Architect of Hollywood

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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
Design  

254- Containers

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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
Design  

253- Manzanar

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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
Design  

252- The Falling of the Lenins

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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
Design  

251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

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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
Design  

250- State (Sanctuary, Part 2)

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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
Design  

249- Church (Sanctuary, Part 1)

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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
Design  

248- Atom in the Garden of Eden

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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
Design  

247- Usonia the Beautiful

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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
Design  

246- Usonia 1

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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
Design  

245- The Eponymist

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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
Design  

244- The Revolutionary Post

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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
Design  

243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

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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
Design  

242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2

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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
Design  

241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1

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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
Design  

240- Plat of Zion

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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
Design  

239- Guano Island

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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
Design  

238- NBC Chimes

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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
Design  

237- Dollar Store Town

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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
Design  

236- Reverb

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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
Design  

235- Ten Letters for the President

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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
Design  

234- The Shift

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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
Design  

233- Space Trash, Space Treasure

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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
Design  

232- McMansion Hell

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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
Design  

231- Half a House

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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
Design  

230- Project Cybersyn

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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
Design  

124- Longbox

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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.
Design  

229- The Trend Forecast

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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
Design  

228- Making Up Ground

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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
Design  

227- Public Works

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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
Design  

226- On Average

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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
Design  

225- Photo Credit

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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
Design  

224- A Sea Worth its Salt

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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
Design  

223- The Magic Bureaucrat

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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
Design  

222- Combat Hearing Loss

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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
Design  

221- America’s Last Top Model

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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
Design  

220- The Mind of an Architect

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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
Design  

219- Unpleasant Design

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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
Design  

218- Remembering Stonewall

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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
Design  

217- Home on Lagrange

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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
Design  

216- The Blazer Experiment

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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
Design  

215- H-Day

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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
Design  

130- Holdout

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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
Design  

214- Loud and Clear

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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
Design  

213- Separation Anxiety

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“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
Design  

212- Turf Wars of East New York

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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
Design  

211- The Grand Dame of Broad Street

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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
Design  

210- Unseen City

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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
Design  

209- Supertall 101

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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
Design  

208- Vox Ex Machina

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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
Design  

207- Soul City

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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
Design  

206- The White Elephant Of Tel Aviv

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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
Design  

205- Flying Food

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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
Design  

204- The SoHo Effect

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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
Design  

203- The Giftschrank

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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
Design  

202- Mojave Phone Booth

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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
Design  

Video- The Norman Door with Vox

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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
Design  

201- The Green Book

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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
Design  

200- Miss Manhattan

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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
Design  

199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball

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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
Design  

198- The Ice King

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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
Design  

197- Fish Cannon

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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
Design  

196- The Fresno Drop

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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
Design  

195- Best Enjoyed By

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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
Design  

194- Bone Music

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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
Design  

193- Tube Benders

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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
Design  

192- Pagodas and Dragon Gates

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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
Design  

191- Worst Smell in the World

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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
Design  

190- Fixing the Hobo Suit

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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
Design  

189- The Landlord’s Game

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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
Design  

188- Fountain Drinks

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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
Design  

187- Butterfly Effects

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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
Design  

186- War and Pizza

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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
Design  

Radiotopia Forever- Coin Check

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To get your exclusive 99% Invisible Challenge Coin, make a donation to the Radiotopia Forever campaign. Thanks! Coin Check The United States Military is not known for being touchy-feely. There’s not much hugging or head-patting, and superiors don’t always have the … Continue reading
Design  

185- Atmospherians

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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
Design  

110- Structural Integrity (Rebroadcast)

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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
Design  

184- Rajneeshpuram

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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
Design  

183- Dead Letter Office

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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
Design  

182- A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

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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
Design  

181- Milk Carton Kids

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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
Design  

180- Reefer Madness

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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
Design  

179- Bathysphere

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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
Design  

178- The Great Restoration

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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
Design  

177- Lawn Order

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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
Design  

176- Hard to Love a Brute

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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
Design  

175- The Sunshine Hotel

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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
Design  

174- From the Sea, Freedom

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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
Design  

173- Awareness

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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
Design  

172- On Location

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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
Design  

171- Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, Pt. 2)

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

169- Freud’s Couch

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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
Design  

168- All In Your Head

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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
Design  

167- Voices in the Wire

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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
Design  

166- Viva La Arquitectura!

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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
Design  

165- The Nutshell Studies

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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
Design  

164- The Post-Billiards Age

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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
Design  

163- The Gruen Effect

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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
Design  

162- Mystery House

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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
Design  

161- Show of Force

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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
Design  

160- Perfect Security

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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
Design  

159- The Calendar

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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
Design  

158- Sandhogs

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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
Design  

54- The Colour of Money (R)

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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
Design  

157- Devil’s Rope

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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
Design  

156- Coin Check

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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
Design  

155- Palm Reading

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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
Design  

154- PDX Carpet

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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
Design  

153- Game Over (R)

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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
Design  

152- Guerrilla Public Service

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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
Design  

151- La Mascotte

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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
Design  

150- Under The Moonlight

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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
Design  

149- Of Mice And Men

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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
Design  

148- The Sizzle

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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
Design  

147- Penn Station Sucks

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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
Design  

146- Mooallempalooza

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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
Design  

145- Octothorpe

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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
Design  

144- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

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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
Design  

143- Inflatable Men

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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
Design  

142- And The Winner Is

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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
Design  

141- Three Records from Sundown

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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
Design  

140- Vexillonaire

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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
Design  

139- Edge of Your Seat

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“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
Design  

138- O-U-I-J-A

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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
Design  

137- Good Bread

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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
Design  

Kickstart Radiotopia- A Storytelling Revolution

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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!  
Design  

136- Lights Out

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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
Design  

135- For Amusement Only

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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
Design  

134- The Straight Line Is A Godless Line

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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
Design  

133- Port of Dallas

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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
Design  

132- Castle on the Park

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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
Design  

131- Genesis Object

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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
Design  

130- Holdout

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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
Design  

129- Thomassons

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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
Design  

128- Hacking IKEA

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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
Design  

127- The Sound of Sports

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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
Design  

126- Walk This Way

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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
Design  

125- Duplitecture

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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
Design  

124- Longbox

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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.
Design  

123- Snowflake

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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
Design  

122- Good Egress

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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
Design  

121- Cold War Kids

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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
Design  

120- Skyjacking

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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
Design  

119- Feet of Engineering

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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
Design  

118- Song Exploder

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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
Design  

117- Clean Trains

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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
Design  

116- Breaking the Bank

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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
Design  

115- Cow Tunnels

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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
Design  

114- Ten Thousand Years

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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
Design  

113- Monumental Dilemma

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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
Design  

112- Young Ruin

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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
Design  

111- Masters of the Uni-verse

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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
Design  

110- Structural Integrity

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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
Design  

109- Title TK

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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
Design  

108- Barcodes

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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
Design  

107- Call Now

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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
Design  

106- The Fancy Shape

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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
Design  

105- One Man is An Island

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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
Design  

104- Tunnel 57

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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
Design  

103- UTBAPH

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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
Design  

102- Icon for Access

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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
Design  

101- Cover Story

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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
Design  

100- Higher And Higher

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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
Design  

99- The View From The 79th Floor

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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
Design  

98- Six Stories- the memory palace

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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
Design  

97- Numbers Stations

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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
Design  

96- DIY Space Suit

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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
Design  

95- Future Screens are Mostly Blue

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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
Design  

94- Unbuilt

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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
Design  

93- Revolving Doors

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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
Design  

92- All the Buildings

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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
Design  

91x- Always Read the Plaque- Kickstarter Announcement

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We’re taking the show weekly in 2014 with your help. Join us! In this mini-episode, we revisit John Marr’s story that started a tiny 99% Invisible movement: “Always Read the Plaque.”
Design  

Kickstart Season 4 of 99% Invisible- Weekly Episodes

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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
Design  

91- Wild Ones Live

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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
Design  

90- Strowger and Purple Reign Redux

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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
Design  

89- Bubble Houses

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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
Design  

88- The Broadcast Clock

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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
Design  

87- I Heart NY, TM

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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
Design  

86- Reversal of Fortune

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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
Design  

85- Noble Effort

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

83- Heyoon

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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
Design  

82- The Man of Tomorrow

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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
Design  

81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge

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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
Design  

80- An Architect’s Code

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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
Design  

79- The Symphony of Sirens plus Soviet Design

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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
Design  

78- No Armed Bandit

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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
Design  

77- Game Changer

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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
Design  

76- The Modern Moloch

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-75- Secret Staircases

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-74- Hand Painted Signs

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-72- New Old Town

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-71- In and Out of LOVE

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-68- Built for Speed

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-67- Broken Window

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-66- Kowloon Walled City

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-65- Razzle Dazzle

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-64- Derelict Dome

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-63- The Political Stage

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-62- Q2

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-61- A Series of Tubes

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-60a- Two Storeys

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-60- Names vs The Nothing

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-58- Purple Reign

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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
Design  

Kickstarter Video for Season 3 of 99% Invisible

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-57- What Gave You That Idea

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-56- Frozen Music

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-54- The Colour of Money

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-53- The Xanadu Effect

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-52- Galloping Gertie

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

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“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
Design  

99% Invisible-50- DeafSpace

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-49- Queue Theory and Design

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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
Design  

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

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“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
Design  

99% Invisible-47- US Postal Service Stamps

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-46- Vulcanite Dentures

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-45- Immersive Ideal

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-44- The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-43- Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators

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“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
Design  

99% Invisible-42- Recognizably Anonymous

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-41- The Human-Human Interface

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-40- Billy Possum

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-39- Darth Vader Family Courthouse

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-38- Sound of Sport

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-36- Super Bon Bonn

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-35- Elegy for WTC

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-33- A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-32- Design for Airports

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-31- Feltron Annual Report

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-29- Cul de Sac

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-28- Movie Title Sequences

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-27- Bridge to the Sky

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-26- Chicago’s Jailhouse Skyscraper

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-25- Unsung Icons of Soviet Design

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-24- The Capitol Columns

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-22- Free Speech Monument

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-21- BLDGBLOG: On Sound

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-20- Nikko Concrete Commando

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-19X- RJDJ Reactive Music

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-19- Liberation Squares plus NY Dick

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-18- Check Cashing Stores

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-17- Concrete Furniture

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-16- A Designed Language

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-15- Sounds of the Artificial World

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-14- Periodic Table

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-13- Maps

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-12- 99% Guilt Free

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“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
Design  

99% Invisible-11- 99% Undesigned

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-10- 99% Sound and Feel

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-09X-99% Doomed

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-09- 99% Private

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-08- 99% Free Parking

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-07- 99% Alien

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-06- 99% Symbolic

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-05- 99% Forgotten

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-04- 99% Details

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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
Design  

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

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-02- 99% 180

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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
Design  

99% Invisible-01- 99% Noise

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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.