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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.
Autore: Roman Mars
Ultimo episodio: 11/09/19 0:58
Aggiornamento: 16/09/19 23:11 (Aggiorna adesso)
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
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!
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
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 standing. They cut across communities like monuments to the conflict, etched into the physical landscape. Taking them down isn’t going to be easy.
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 almost 80 years.
This episode was produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson with Nathan Dalton and Brandi Howell. Mixed by Jim McKee
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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.
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
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.
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
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 on Sand
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 curious about how blind people experience literature and the long history of designing a tactile language that sometimes suffered from trying to be too universal.
The Universal Page
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 Singapore
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, sports, and all the things we love now, but hated as teenagers.
The Anthropocene Reviewed
Subscribe to The Anthropocene Reviewed on Apple Podcasts or RadioPublic
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 we actually did a whole episode about last year. So in honor of the Toronto Raptors, and the beautifully ugly jersey they gave the world, we're gonna rerun that episode for you today, along with an update from our new 99pi team member Chris Berube, a Torontonian and Raptors fan since he was a kid.
The Barney Design Redux
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 reemerged in new restaurants today.
Plus, we revisit the story of when food advertising was revolutionized by motion.
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 the surface, misshaping the city’s infrastructure and architecture.
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 to reduce harm and even improve wellbeing.
Sound and Health: Hospitals
Learn more about Sonic Humanism
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 figuring out, how Gaudí wanted the church to be built
La Sagrada Familia
This episode was originally broadcast in October 2017
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
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 Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. Subscribe the The Kitchen Sisters Present on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic
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
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, we lost track of how many there are.
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 sloping down with steps on two of its faces. Noguchi thought of it as a playground, and he called it Play Mountain. Noguchi’s ideas - about imagination, and freedom to play - have left a deep mark on playground designers, and are continuing to shape the playgrounds all around us.
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
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 than you realize.
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
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
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 consequences.
Palaces for the People
Articles of Interest, Avery Trufelman’s acclaimed podcast mini-series about what we wear, now has its own feed. Subscribe to AOI on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic. Please leave a review and spread the word. Thanks!
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.
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 technology, even the unknowns currently interred in the tomb can be positively identified.
The Known Unknown
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.
This episode is a recut combination of episodes 246 & 247
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
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 China pulled a move that no one saw coming: they stopped buying.
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
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.
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.
99% Invisible’s Impact Design coverage is supported by Autodesk. The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social and environmental challenges. Learn more about these efforts on Autodesk's RedShift.
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 make it easier to transfuse blood after an atomic bomb. At the age of 16, producer Liza Yeager's grandmother, who went to school in Lake County, was permanently marked in anticipation of a nuclear catastrophe.
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
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 RadioPublic
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
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
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Roman talks with Avery about the lessons learned from making Articles of Interest
Don’t buy that new piece of clothing and use a bit of that money to support Radiotopia
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
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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. This resulted in a years long conflict about how New Mexico should commemorate a “founding father” who committed such cruel acts.
This was a collaboration with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX
Please support the 2018 Radiotopia fund drive!
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 their kind?
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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 had coincidentally written his episode called “Open Road” and we both released them without having heard the other. I think hearing them one after the other is real treat.
The Green Book
Subscribe to the memory palace in Apple Podcasts or Radio Public
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
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.
Plus, Katie Mingle gets the backstory of the Langley Schools Music Project LP, a haunting and uplifting outsider artist masterpiece.
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
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, including a more recent push for more speculative paleoart.
Welcome to Jurassic Art
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
There is this myth that it’s frivolous or unproductive to care about how you look. Clothing and fashion get trivialized a lot. But think about who, culturally, gets associated with clothing and fashion: young people, women, queers, and people of color. Groups of people who historically haven’t had a voice, have expressed themselves on their bodies. Through their style, their hair, their tattoos, their piercings, and what they wear.
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.
Punk Style: Articles of Interest #6
For the most part, we tend to keep our clothes relatively clean and avoid spills and rips and tears. But denim is so hard-wearing and hard-working that it just kind of amasses more and more signs of wear. So you can learn a lot from observing an old pair of blue jeans.
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.
Blue Jeans: Articles of Interest #5
There are a few ways to tell if you’re looking at an authentic, high-quality aloha shirt. If the pockets match the pattern, that’s a good sign, but it’s not everything. Much of understanding an aloha shirt is about paying attention to what is on the shirt itself. It’s about looking at the pattern to see the story it tells.
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothing. It is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.
Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4
Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women's clothes have pockets at all, they are often and smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely.
Pockets: Articles of Interest #3
Lumberjacks wore plaid. Punks wore plaid mini skirts. The Beach Boys used to be called the Pendletones, and they wore plaid with their surfboards. Lots of different groups have adopted the pattern over the course of the 20th century, but if we want to explore how this pattern proliferated, we’ve got to go to Scotland.
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear: a six-part series looking at clothing within 99% Invisible created by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.
Plaid: Articles of Interest #2
Clothes are records of the bodies we’ve lived in. Think of the old sweater that you used to have that's just not your style anymore, or the jeans that just aren’t your size anymore. We are like snakes who shed our skins and grow new ones as we age. And it all starts in the kids' department.
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear: a six-part series looking at clothing within 99% Invisible. AoI is produced and hosted by Avery Trufelman. Episodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.
Kids’ Clothes: Articles of Interest #1
The year was 1982, and in the small city of Allentown on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania sat an AM radio station called WSAN. For years, it had broadcast country music to the surrounding Lehigh Valley -- an area known for malls, manufacturing and Mack Trucks.
WSAN was about to undergo a complete identity change, from a country station and to a "nostalgia" station -- meaning Big Band, and soft hits from the 1950’s. They wanted a gimmick to hook new listeners, so WSAN decided to launch a good old-fashioned endurance contest, reminiscent of the pole sitting stunts or dance marathons popular in the 1920’s. They secured a local sponsor, Love Homes, to donate a prize: a single-wide modular home worth $18,000.
It seemed like a simple marketing strategy, but WSAN had grossly underestimated just how much people would endure for a little economic security.
Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time
The Sear & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early twentieth century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world -- itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses.
The House that Came in the Mail
A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America.
The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things—rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss.
The First Straw
Blepharoplasty is often done to lift loose or sagging skin around the upper eyelids caused by aging. But for a lot of people of Asian descent, this surgery is not strictly about aging and more commonly referred to as “double eyelid” surgery.
The double eyelid surgery adds a crease -- so instead of the skin of the upper lid running smoothly from the bottom of the eyebrow straight down to the eyelashes, there is now a small indented fold in the skin, just a few millimeters wide, that runs in a horizontal crescent above the lash line.
In 2017 alone over 12,500 Asian Americans had double eyelid surgery, and given the racist history behind the procedure, it makes sense that some people in the U.S. are vocally critical about it...but it’s more complicated than that.
Most of the American west is owned by the Federal Government. About 85 percent of Nevada, 61 percent of Alaska, 53 percent of Oregon, the list goes on. And there have always been questions about how this immense swath of land should be used. Should we allow ranchers to graze cattle, or should the western land be a place where wild animals can roam free and be protected, or is it land we want to reserve for recreation? As you can imagine, there is no consensus on the answers to these questions but there are a LOT of strong feelings, and over the years, those strong feelings have sometimes bubbled up to the surface and manifested in protests and even violence. In 2016, a group of armed militants occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in western Oregon. They were led by a cattle rancher by the name of Ammon Bundy - the son of Cliven Bundy. Perhaps you heard about it but never understood exactly what it was all about. Well, today we bring you a story from Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting reported by Leah Sottile- it's the first in series they put together that looks deeply into the fascinating and even sometimes wonky details of how the american west is managed, why the Bundys are so angry about it, and the religious ideology that undergirds their fight against the federal government.
The Bundyville series on Longreads
For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for people from China, the Chinatown aesthetic can feel surprisingly foreign.
The same goes for fortune cookies.
Two stories from the 99pi archive about the complex and interesting ways China has been interpreted by America.
Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, right next to Santa Barbara, sits Montecito, California. The region endures a major fire approximately once every 10 years. For this landscape, fire is predictable and it is inevitable. Now, coupled with multi-year drought, it is becoming unmanageable.
For decades, locals have taken fire as a fact of life, rebuilding as needed. But that acceptance is getting harder to sustain as fires become more frequent and more intense -- and as communities are forced to reckon with rebuilding again and again. Area residents and officials are starting to rethink how they deal with disaster. Last year, there was another fire -- the largest in California history up to that point -- that made people feel a new sense of danger.
Fire and Rain
After the massive Panorama Fire in southern California in 1980, a young fire researcher named Jack Cohen went in to investigate the houses that were destroyed. One of the first things that Cohen did was to listen to emergency dispatch tapes from the day of the fire. And as he listened, he began to notice a pattern. People were calling in about houses on fire long before the fire front ever reached their neighborhoods.The houses were not burning because a wall of flames was racing through the community, destroying them. It was something else: embers. This started Cohen on a crusade to get people to rethink how we fight wildfires.
Built to Burn
Four times every day, on radios all across the British Isles, a BBC announcer begins reading from a seemingly indecipherable script. "And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency," says the voice over the wire. "Viking, North Utsire; southwesterly five to seven; occasionally gale eight; rain or showers; moderate or good, occasionally poor." Cryptic and mesmerizing, this is the UK’s nautical weather report.
The Shipping Forecast
Louis is a can of generic cola. He’s been on the shelf a long while, so he’s had some time to think. Go2 is a store brand. "People call it a knockoff," says Louis. "I've been called the best of the worst. Bottom-shelf. We can describe it as bottom-shelf. I'm at peace with that."
Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show with host Ian Chillag in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. In each episode, a different thing tells us its life story -- and everything it says is true.
Subscribe to Everything is Alive on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic
In the spring of 1962, an ad man named Martin Speckter was thinking about advertising when he realized something: many ads asked questions, but not just any questions -- excited and exclamatory questions -- a trend not unique to his time. Got milk?! Where's the beef?! Can you hear me now?! So he asked himself: could there be a mark that made it clear (visually on a page) that something is both a question and an exclamation?!
Speckter was also the editor of the typography magazine *TYPEtalks, *so in March of 1962, in an article for the magazine titled “Making a New Point, Or How About That…”, Speckter proposed the first new mark of English language punctuation in 300 years: the interrobang.
Plus, we revisit the story of another special character, the octothorpe.
This is a special presentation of episode #4 of Radiotopia's newest show ZigZag.
Manoush and Jen give themselves 36 hours in San Francisco to come up with a financial backup plan, just in case this whole blockchain-token-thing doesn’t work out. Silicon Valley runs on VC money so maybe Stable Genius Productions should too? First, they talk to a well-known venture capitalist on whether aligning their mission with investor expectations is a laughable goal. Then, they visit Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible and Radiotopia co-founder, at his headquarters in Oakland. He explains how he built his podcasting empire and advises Manoush and Jen on their plan.
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The world is full of icons that warn us to be afraid — to stay away from this or not do that. And many of these are easy to understand because they represent something recognizable, like a fire, or a person slipping on a wet floor. But some concepts are hard to communicate visually, especially in a way that will work for generations to come. 99% Invisible teamed up with Vox to bring you this video about the challenges designers face in developing warning symbols that last.
Why Danger Symbols Can't Last Forever
Check out all of Vox’s videos. They’re top drawer.
In the United Kingdom, the freedom to walk through private land is known as “the right to roam.” The movement to win this right was started in the 1930s by a rebellious group of young people who called themselves “ramblers” and spent their days working in the factories of Manchester, England.
Plus, bothy talk.
Right to Roam
In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord, had effectively declared war on the Colombian state. At one point, his cartel was supplying 80% of the world's cocaine and the violence surrounding the drug trade had become extreme. The bloodshed was focused in the city of Medellin.
As the years went on, Medellin became the most dangerous city in the world.
But today, Medellin is very different. In just thirty years, it’s transformed from being the bloody cocaine capital of the world into a place that’s often described as a “model city.” It’s now safer than many cities in the U.S, and, to the surprise of many, one of the things that helped to pull the city out of the violence was a whole new approach to urban planning, including a major overhaul of the city’s public transportation system.
This is a collaboration with Latino USA
Check out the new Radiotopia show ZigZag. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.
Until the early 90s, basketball uniforms were pretty tame. There had been real limits to what could be done with jerseys. All the details—the numbers, the names, the logos—had to be sewed on. Complicated graphics would have taken a massive amount of embroidery, which would have added additional weight and made the jersey hotter to wear. But dye sublimation changed everything. Sublimation is a process of printing dye directly into the fabric. Now for the first time, you could design something in Photoshop, and make it as big and colorful as you wanted. Then with sublimation, you could print that design straight onto the material without any embroidery or extra weight. This allowed NBA teams to go wild…and they did…which led to one of the most famous love-it-or-hate-it basketball jersey, the 1996 Toronto Raptors’ “Barney Uniform.”
The Barney Design
As the U.S. war effort ramped up in the early 1940s, the Navy put out a request for chair design submissions. They needed a chair that was fireproof, waterproof, lightweight and strong enough to survive a torpedo blast. In response, engineer named Wilton C. Dinges designed a chair made out of aluminum, bent and welded to be super strong.
To show off the durability of his creation, Dinges took it up to the eighth floor of a hotel in Chicago, where the Navy was examining submissions, and threw it out of the window. It bounced, but didn't bend or break.
And so the Navy gave its inventor the contract, and he, in turn, opened a factory and called new his business the Electrical Machine and Equipment Company, or: Emeco.
Over the decades the Emeco Navy chair became so popular that companies began to copy it. There are now tons of knockoffs -- fakes. Last month, Benjamen Walker of Theory of Everything walked 99% Invisible Host Roman Mars around New York city, pointing out real and fake Emeco chairs.
Svalbard is a remote Norwegian archipelago with reindeer, Arctic foxes and only around 2,500 humans -- but it is also home to a vault containing seeds for virtually every edible plant one can imagine. The mountainside Crop Trust facility has thousands of varieties of coconuts, corn, rice and more, serving as a seed backup for humanity. For each crop, there’s an envelope with 500 seeds.
This featured episode from the show “Endless Thread” explores an unusual reserve of invaluable resources. Plus, Emmett tells about another seed bank in more precarious part of the world.
If you live in an American city and you don’t personally use a wheelchair, it's easy to overlook the small ramp at most intersections, between the sidewalk and the street. Today, these curb cuts are everywhere, but fifty years ago -- when an activist named Ed Roberts was young -- most urban corners featured a sharp drop-off, making it difficult for him and other wheelchair users to get between blocks without assistance.
"Part of the paradox at the heart of manufactured housing," explains Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver "is that it's precisely the thing that makes it so affordable that also makes this a highly insecure form of housing." Sullivan says that about a third of mobile homeowners live in parks where they rent a plot of land for their home. She calls this arrangement halfway homeownership, because it’s filled with uncertainty. The property owners can raise rents, or fail to maintain communal infrastructure, or even sell the park and evict everyone living in it. Often there isn't a lot that residents can do, but now there is a new movement of cooperative ownership of mobile home parks.
When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient -- that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment.
That's why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes moment. And that’s not the only connection between acting and this particular facet of medicine.
It turns out that one of the first doctors to recognize the challenges of this particular kind of doctor-patient communication wasn’t just a physician -- he was also a comedian. And he drew on that experience to transform the way that doctors break bad news.
Breaking Bad News
For nearly five decades, the laugh track was ubiquitous on television sitcoms, but in the early 2000s, it began to disappear. What happened? How did we get from the raucous canned laughter of the Beverly Hillbillies to the silent, sly “joke every 20 seconds” of 30 Rock? The curious story of the laugh track starts with one man who created the laugh track as a homemade piece of technology that took over the sound of television and then fell out of fashion with the rise of a more modern sense of humor. What happened to the laugh track is one of the cultural mysteries that are being explored on Slate’s new monthly podcast: Decoder Ring with Willa Paskin
The Laff Box
Plus, Roman talks to The West Wing Weekly co-host Joshua Malina about his time acting on Sports Night, which was a turning point in the history of the television laugh track.
Learn more and subscribe to Decoder Ring
Subscribe to The West Wing Weekly
The Gander Airport in Newfoundland was once the easternmost airfield in North America, so when transatlantic air travel was new and difficult through the mid-20th century, Gander played a critical role in getting people back and forth from Europe to America.
This made the tiny town of Gander an unlikely international hub, hosting the likes of Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the Queen of England in the beautiful, mid-century modern lounge. The lounge and bar at the airport also served as the town’s major hotspot, so the locals just hung out there, always with the possibility they’d rub elbows with a huge international celebrity.
Once airplanes could easily make it across the Atlantic without refueling in Gander, the airport got really quiet, but the town that hosted the most famous people in the world found a new purpose on 9/ 11 when they welcomed 7000 stranded passengers unable to enter US airspace.
Gander International Airport
Andre Walker became famous for being Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, but he is also known for something else: a system that he created back in the 1990s to market his line of hair care products. The system categorizes natural hair types, and it's often referred to simply as "the hair chart." The chart identifies four hair types and within each of those categories there are different sub-types. The chart spans straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair.
For Walker, the chart was all about selling his products. People could use it to identify their hair type and then buy a complementary product. But the chart has gone way beyond his own hair care line and become a way some African-American people talk and think about hair. Not everyone thinks the categories are helpful, and some of the criticism has its roots far back in American history.
The Hair Chart
This episode is a collaboration with The Stoop, a podcast hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba, which features stories from across the black diaspora.
To this day, architects tend to turn their noses up at Las Vegas, or simply dismiss it as irrelevant to serious design theory. But as Denise Scott Brown discovered in the mid-1960s, there is so much to learn from Las Vegas about how to make architecture that speaks to people and not just to architects.
Lessons from Las Vegas
The battlefield has always been at the mercy of the climate, but there was a time in U.S. military history when we did more than just pray for advantageous weather. We tried to create it.
Making it Rain
They are hulking, but graceful -- human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the public imagination, playing a recurring role in our dreams of alternate realities and futures that might have been. In these visions, cargo and passengers traverse the globe in smoothly gliding aircraft, then dock elegantly at the mooring towers on top of Art Deco skyscrapers.
Today, blimps are mostly just PR gimmicks, but for 100 years, lighter-than-air crafts were seriously considered as the perfect design solution for all kinds of problems, at least in theory. And despite setbacks and failures, people just wouldn’t give up on the promise of airships.
The most promising (and most opulent) rigid airship of the 1920s era was Britain’s R101 (the R stands for rigid) and its rise and dramatic fall is the primary subject of engineering expert Bill Hammack’s new book about Britain’s last great airship, called Fatal Flight.
Airships and the Future that Never Was
The way we draw our political districts has a huge effect on U.S. politics, but the process is also greatly misunderstood. Gerrymandering has become a scapegoat for what’s wrong with the polarized American political system, blamed for marginalizing groups and rigging elections, but there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all design solution for drawing fair districts. Drawing districts may be the most important design problem of representative democracy and this week FiveThirtyEight will guide us through the ways different states have tackled this problem.
Check out the full Five Thirty Eight series The Gerrymandering Project
All around the country, there stands a figure so much a part of historical architecture and urban landscapes that she is rarely noticed. She has gone by many names, from Star Maiden to Priestess of Culture, Spirit of Life to Mourning Victory. Now nearly forgotten, Audrey Munson was once the most famous artist’s model in the United States.
In and beyond her time, she has represented many things, including truth, memory, seasons, the stars, and even the universe itself. Immortalized in iron, marble and gold, Audrey remains perched on high, quietly watching over cities from coast to coast.
In the late 1920s, the Ford Motor Company bought up millions of acres of land in Brazil. They loaded boats with machinery and supplies, and shipped them deep into the Amazon rainforest. Workers cut down trees and cleared the land and then they built a rubber plantation in the middle of one of the wildest places on earth. But Henry Ford wanted this community -- called “Fordlândia” -- to be more than just a huge plantation. He envisioned an industrial utopia. He paid his Brazilian workers good wages, at least for the region. And he tried to build them the kind of place he would’ve loved to live, which is to say: a small Midwestern town...but in the middle of the jungle.
In the second segment, we discuss Roman’s other show What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law
The Bijlmermeer (or Bijlmer, for short) was built just outside of Amsterdam in the 1960s. It was designed by modernist architects to be a "city of the future" with its functions separated into distinct zones. To Modernists, it represented a vision of the city as a well-oiled machine Upon completion, it was a massive expanse of 31 concrete towers. There were 13,000 apartments, many of them unoccupied. Just sitting there, totally empty.
Listen to Part 1 of this story here.
In Part 2, we look at how the migration of tens of thousands of Surinamese Dutch began to give the empty place life where it wasn’t before and how a tragic accident kickstarted a redesign that managed to do what the Modernists neglected to do: listen to the people who live there.
Blood, Sweat and Tears (City of the Future, Part 2)
After World War 2, city planners in Amsterdam wanted to design the perfect “City of the Future.” They decided to build a new neighborhood, close to Amsterdam, that would be a perfect encapsulation of Modernist principles. It was called the Bijlmermeer, and it tested the lofty ideas of the International Congress of Modern Architecture on a grand scale. When it was over, no one would ever try it again.
Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)
The Chase logo was introduced in 1961, when the Chase National Bank and the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged to form the Chase Manhattan Bank. At the time, few American corporations used abstract symbols for their identification. Seen as radical in that context, the Chase symbol has survived a number of subsequent mergers and has become one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Its graphic designer, Tom Geismar, has been a driving force in the field of design and graphic identity for over 60 years. The influence of the firm he co-founded can be felt in logos you see every day.
Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar
When current President Donald Trump took office, he promised to build an “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall." The first part of this episode by Radio Diaries tells two stories of what happens when, instead of people crossing the border, the border crosses the people. Then, in part two of the show, Avery Trufelman takes a closer look at eight current designs that have been turned into prototypes near the border in California.
Learn more about Radio Diaries
In the 1970s it looked like the beloved, 200-year-old Cape Hatteras lighthouse was in danger. The sea was getting closer and threatening to swallow it up. And people were torn over what to do about it - they could move the lighthouse, or leave it in place and try to defend it against the forces of nature. For the next 30 years, the locals fought an intense political battle over this decision. It’s the kind of battle we can expect to see a lot more of as sea levels rise and threaten coastal communities around the world.
Cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud has been making and thinking about comics for decades. He is the author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. This classic volume explores formal aspects of comics, the historical development of the medium, its fundamental vocabulary, and various ways in which these elements have been used.
Scott McCloud breaks down some of the universals in comics and guides us through some of the comic books that pushed the art form forward. Then we use that lens to look at graphic communication in the world at large.
Speech Bubbles: Understanding Comics with Scott McCloud
When air conditioning was invented in 1902, it was designed to take out the humidity in the air so printers could run four color magazines, without the colors becoming offset due to the paper warping from moisture. A young engineer named Willis Carrier developed a system that pumps air over metal coils cooled with ammonia to pull moisture from the air, but it had a side effect -- it also made the air cooler. Very quickly Carrier began to think about how it could be used beyond printing. Ultimately, air conditioning would dramatically change where people in the United States lived and the design of homes and other buildings.
This part two of the 2017/ 2018 mini-stories episodes, where Roman interviews the staff and our collaborators about their favorite little design stories that don’t quite fill out an entire episode for whatever reason, but are cool 99pi stories, nonetheless.
We have underground tunnels, alarms, mysterious filing cabinets, and gold, tiny, tiny amounts of gold. Prepare to be very interesting at your next party.
Mini-Stories: Volume 4
Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour. It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of "tunnel boom," where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds. Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus.
This is one of a series of design videos we're launching in partnership with Vox.
Subscribe to Vox’s YouTube channel here: http://goo.gl/ 0bsAjO
It’s the end of the year and time for our annual Mini-stories episodes. Mini-stories are quick hit stories that were maybe pitched to us from someone in the audience, or something interesting we saw on twitter, or just a cool tidbit that we found in our research that stuck in our heads, but didn’t warrant a full episode for whatever reason. We’ll have stories of mysterious ice boats, green ruins, sack dresses, steampunk violins, and a little update from a couple of the notable city flags that have been redesigned around the country.
Mini-Stories: Volume 3
In the early morning of August 5, 2001, artist Richard Ankrom and a group of friends assembled on the 4th Street bridge over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. They had gathered to commit a crime. Years before, when Ankrom was driving through downtown Los Angeles, he was going to merge onto the I-5 North. But he missed the exit and got lost. The I-5 exit wasn’t indicated on the green overhead sign. It was clear to Ankrom that the California Department of Transportation had made a mistake. And for some reason, this stuck with him. Ankrom, an artist and sign painter, decided to make the Interstate 5 North shield himself. He also decided that he would take it upon himself to install it above the 110 freeway.
He would call it an act of “guerrilla public service.”
In the past fifty years, the car crash death rate has dropped by nearly 80 percent in the United States. And one of the reasons for that drop has to do with the “accident report forms” that police officers fill out when they respond to a wreck. Officers use these forms to document the weather conditions, to draw a diagram of the accident, and to identify the collision’s “primary cause.” All that information gathered on the side of the road goes from the accident report form into a federal database: the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
Car companies, safety advocates, and regulators comb through this data constantly, looking for patterns that help them understand how and why people die in car wrecks. In turn, this information helps designers and engineers create safer vehicles and roadways. The data informs all kinds of design decisions around car safety — everything from speed limits to mandatory seat belts.
But this culture of heavily regulated, data-driven, auto-safety engineering did not always exist. In fact, for decades, automakers tried to keep data about car wrecks to themselves. They not only resisted making cars safer, they argued the very idea of a “safe car” was impossible.
The Nut Behind the Wheel
While the 1960s shift in print and TV advertising has been heavily documented and mythologized by Mad Men, Madison Avenue’s radiophonic collision with the counterculture is less well known. A radio advertising producer, writer, and composer, Clive Desmond takes listeners on a highly subjective journey through one narrow, eccentric, corridor of radio advertising. Here, he has rescued beautiful forgotten nuggets of radio history and delicately arranged them into a glittering associative chain—a constellation of jingles and spots that somehow all add up to more. A version of episode was originally featured on The Organist, a bi-weekly experimental arts-and-culture program from McSweeney's and KCRW.
A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream
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