99% Invisible

99% Invisible Podcast

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

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

414- The Address Book
An address is something many people take for granted today, but they are in fact a fairly recent invention that has shaped our cities and taken on great political importance. Deirdre Mask is the author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, which looks at all the ways the world has changed since the popularization of street addresses during the Enlightenment. The book examines how addresses impact wealth and poverty, and how they serve as proxies for our m...

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


412- Where Do We Go From Here?
There have been many waves of panic and resistance to new people moving into the public sphere and needing accommodation. And a focus of that panic has often been… public bathrooms. The debate about trans bathroom access became a big national story a little over five years ago after the passage of ordinances in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, and Houston, TX, which attempted to restrict which bathrooms trans people could or couldn’t use. Many transgender, non-binary, and intersex people risk stress a...

411- Podcast Episode
After the 1970s oil crisis, the global economy went into a recession. American unemployment hit 11 percent. And suddenly, middle-class families didn’t have money for name brands like Coke or Kellogg’s. Consumers wanted cheaper food. In response, supermarkets had to figure out how to make their store brands more appealing. One chain in France, called Carrefour, was developing a discount store brand when they had an idea. Instead of using bright colors, or putting their own name on the box, or using slogans o...

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


410- Policing the Open Road
Before the twentieth century, most Americans rarely came into contact with police officers. But with more and more drivers behind the wheel, police departments rapidly expanded their forces and increased officers’ authority to stop citizens who violated traffic laws. The Fourth Amendment—the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures—did not effectively shield individuals from government intrusion while driving. Instead, jurists interpreted the amendment narrowly. In a society depe...

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

408- Valley of the Fallen
About an hour northwest of Madrid, an enormous stone crucifix rises 500 feet out of a rocky mountaintop. It’s so big you can see it from miles away. Beneath the cross, there’s a sprawling Benedictine monastery and a basilica carved out of the mountain. This place is called The Valley of the Fallen. And it’s likely the most controversial monument in Spain. The Valley is synonymous with Francisco Franco, the general who ruled Spain from the end of its bloody civil war in 1939 until his death in 1975. When Fra...


408- Valley of the Fallen
About an hour northwest of Madrid, an enormous stone crucifix rises 500 feet out of a rocky mountaintop. It’s so big you can see it from miles away. Beneath the cross, there’s a sprawling Benedictine monastery and a basilica carved out of the mountain. This place is called The Valley of the Fallen. And it’s likely the most controversial monument in Spain. The Valley is synonymous with Francisco Franco, the general who ruled Spain from the end of its bloody civil war in 1939 until his death in 1975. When Fra...

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

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


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

404- Return of Oñate's Foot
All across the country, protestors have been tearing down old monuments. These monuments have been falling in the middle of historic protests against police brutality. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, these demonstrations have spread to communities, big and small, across the country and around the world. And as they've grown, the protests have become about much more than police violence. This national uprising has inspired a massive reckoning with our country's past. Suddenly, decades o...

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


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

Wedding Dresses: Articles of Interest #12
A wedding was once seen as a start of young adulthood. Now, a wedding has come to represent a crowning achievement -- a symbol that your whole life is together and you have accrued the time and space and resources to afford your ascent to another level of fulfillment. And there's no greater symbol for this day, and all the pressure it brings, than a white dress. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2...

Diamonds: Articles of Interest #11
Diamonds represent value, in all its multiple meanings: values, as in ethics, and value as in actual price. But what are these rocks actually worth? The ethics and costs of diamond rings have shifted with society, from their artificial scarcity perpetuated by DeBeers to their artificial creation in labs. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethi...


Suits: Articles of Interest #10
Menswear can seem boring. If you look at any award show, most of the men are dressed in black pants and black jackets. This uniform design can be traced back to American Revolution, classical statuary, and one particular bloke bopping around downtown London way back in the 1770s. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at wha...

Perfume: Articles of Interest #9
The world of high end perfume is surprisingly lucrative, considering that scent is often the most ignored of our senses. But one can't judge a scent solely by the brand and shape of the bottle. With the right amount of attention, perfume can be a key to a whole olfactory world. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what ...

Knockoffs: Articles of Interest #8
Brands hold immense sway over both consumers and the American legal system. Few know this as well as Dapper Dan, who went from street hustler to fashion impresario and has spent time on both sides of American trademark law. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018 by Avery Trufelman, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us....


A Fantasy of Fashion: Articles of Interest #7
In the wake of World War II, the government of France commissioned its most prominent designers to create a collection of miniature fashion dolls. It might seem like an odd thing to fund, but the fantasy of high fashion inspired hope in postwar Paris. These dolls also forever changed the curator who discovered them almost 40 years later, in a strange museum perched on a cliff in rural Washington state. Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architec...

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

400- The Smell of Concrete After Rain
There have been over 200,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. All have been tragic, but there are two people in particular we’ve lost due to COVID that were part of the world of architecture and design that we want to honor with a couple of stories today. First, we are mourning the loss of architect Michael McKinnell. Along with Gerhard Kallman, McKinnell designed the unforgettable Boston City Hall, completed in 1968. They won the commission for Boston City Hall after submitting their brutali...


399- Masking for a Friend
Here in the US, we're not used to needing to cover half of our faces in public, but if you look at the other side of the world, it's a different story. In parts of Asia, wearing a mask in response to the coronavirus pandemic was a totally easy and normal adjustment. Rebecca Kanthor is a reporter based in Shanghai who has lived in China for the past 17 years, and she tells us why the culture behind masks developed so differently there, and the doctor who started it all. Plus, we look at the manufacturers wh...

398- Unsheltered in Place
99% Invisible producer Katie Mingle had already been working on a series about unhoused people in the Bay Area for over a year when the current pandemic began to unfold. Suddenly, this vulnerable demographic was cast into the spotlight due to the virulent spread of COVID-19. It is clear from the data that this virus is hitting black and poor communities the hardest. COVID-19 has made American society’s racial and wealth inequities even more obvious. The disease is most dangerous to older and immunocompromis...

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


391- Over the Road
At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, drivers from all over the country converge each year to show off their chrome and exchange stories, tips and gripes. One thing unites most in attendance this year: concerns about the steady march of technology, especially the recently imposed, mandatory electronic logging device, or ELD, which records every detail of a driver’s working hours. Over the Road is an eight-part series that gives voice to the trials and triumphs of America’s long haul tru...

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


383- Mini-Stories: Volume 7
It’s the end of the year and time for our annual mini-stories episodes. Mini-stories are fun, quick hit stories that came up in our research for another episode...or maybe it was some cool thing someone told us about that we found really interesting. They didn’t quite warrant a full episode and two months of hard reporting, but they’re great 99pi stories nonetheless. And my favorite part is we do them as unscripted interviews where I’m in the studio with the people who work on this show, who I like a lot. S...

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

377- How To Pick A Pepper
The chili pepper is the pride of New Mexico, but they have a problem with their beloved crop. There just aren’t enough workers to pick the peppers. Picking chili peppers can be especially grueling work even compared to other crops. So most workers are skipping chili harvests in favor of other sources of income.  As a result, small family farms have been planting less and less chili every year in favor of other less-labor intensive crops. So, scientists are trying to find ways to automate the harvest, but pi...


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

375- Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece
To help celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum teamed up with 99% Invisible to offer visitors a guided audio experience of the museum. Even if you've never been to the Guggenheim Museum, you probably recognize it. From the outside, the building is a light gray spiral, and from the inside, the art is displayed on one long ramp that curves up towards a glass skylight in the ceiling. We’re going to take the greatness of this building as a given. What we’re going to focus on are the oddities, the...

375- Audio Guide to the Imperfections of a Perfect Masterpiece
To help celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Guggenheim Museum teamed up with 99% Invisible to offer visitors a guided audio experience of the museum. Even if you've never been to the Guggenheim Museum, you probably recognize it. From the outside, the building is a light gray spiral, and from the inside, the art is displayed on one long ramp that curves up towards a glass skylight in the ceiling. We’re going to take the greatness of this building as a given. What we’re going to focus on are the oddities, the...


374- Unsure Footing
Before 1992, the easiest way to run the time off the clock in a soccer game was just to pass the ball to the goalkeeper, who could pick the ball up, and hold it for a few seconds before throwing it back into play. This was considered by some to be unsportsmanlike and bad for spectators. So in 1992, the International Football Association Board, the committee in charge of determining the rules of soccer, made a minor change to the laws of the game. From that season forward, in every league throughout the worl...

374- Unsure Footing
Before 1992, the easiest way to run the time off the clock in a soccer game was just to pass the ball to the goalkeeper, who could pick the ball up, and hold it for a few seconds before throwing it back into play. This was considered by some to be unsportsmanlike and bad for spectators. So in 1992, the International Football Association Board, the committee in charge of determining the rules of soccer, made a minor change to the laws of the game. From that season forward, in every league throughout the worl...

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


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

99% Invisible presents What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law
Donald Trump took office 977 days ago, and it has been exhausting. Independent of where you are politically, I think we can all agree that the news cycle coming out of Washington DC has been very intense for anyone who has been paying attention at all. One of the reasons for the fervor is Trump’s role as a very norm breaking president. If you like him, that’s why you like him, if you hate him, that’s why you hate him. But my reaction to all this, was that I realized I didn’t really know what all the norms a...

99% Invisible presents What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law
Donald Trump took office 977 days ago, and it has been exhausting. Independent of where you are politically, I think we can all agree that the news cycle coming out of Washington DC has been very intense for anyone who has been paying attention at all. One of the reasons for the fervor is Trump’s role as a very norm breaking president. If you like him, that’s why you like him, if you hate him, that’s why you hate him. But my reaction to all this, was that I realized I didn’t really know what all the norms a...


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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