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A tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world. http://99percentinvisible.org/ New episodes every Wednesday. On the radio on 91.7 KALW in San Francisco. Fridays at 7:35am and 4:30pm, Saturdays at 8:35am. And public radio stations across the country. Created by Roman Mars.
 
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When a new movie comes out, most of the praise goes to the director and the lead actors, but there are so many other people involved in a film, and a lot of them are designers. There are costume designers and set designers, but also graphic designers working behind the scenes on every single graphic object that you might need in a film. It’s Annie …
 
Back in the 1950s, St. Louis was segregated and The Ville was one of the only African-American neighborhoods in the city. The community was prosperous. Black-owned businesses thrived and the neighborhood was filled with the lovely, ornate brick homes the city has become famous for.But driving around The Ville today, the neighborhood looks very diff…
 
The line to enter Barcelona’s most famous cathedral often stretches around the block. La Sagrada Família, designed by Antoni Gaudí, draws millions of visitors each year.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’…
 
It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It spans roughly 50 blocks, which is about a fifth of the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. It’s very clear when you’ve entered Skid Row. The sidewalks are mostly occupied by makeshift homes. A dizzying array of tarps and tents stretch out for blocks, improvised liv…
 
Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle.Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to …
 
Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something far more complicated. It's gone through very hard times, but also it’s hopeful. It’s a microcosm of the South Africa’s history, but it’s also a place that moves on. And to this day, this strange concrete tube at…
 
Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as "unconditional basic income" or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no str…
 
Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been crea…
 
Monuments don't just appear in the wake of someone's death -- they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877.This week, we feature the story of an imagined plaque that could accompany this statue of Nathan Be…
 
Tech analysts estimate that over six billion emojis are sent each day. Emojis, which started off as a collection of low-resolution pixelated images from Japan, have become a well-established and graphically sophisticated part of everyday global communication.But who decides what emojis are available to users, and who makes the actual designs? Indep…
 
On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually -- that's the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles …
 
Imagine for a moment the year 1800. A doctor is meeting with a patient - most likely in the patient’s home. The patient is complaining about shortness of breath. A cough, a fever. The doctor might check the patient’s pulse or feel their belly, but unlike today, what’s happening inside of the patient's body is basically unknowable. There’s no MRI. N…
 
When the tape started rolling in old analog recording studios, there was a feeling that musicians were about to capture a particular moment. On tape, there was no "undo." They could try again, if they had the time and money, but they couldn’t move backwards. What’s done is done, for better and worse. Digital machines entered the mix in the 1980s, c…
 
In Spain, they do the lottery differently. First of all, it's a country-wide obsession -- about 75% of Spaniards buy a ticket. There’s more than one lottery in Spain, but the one that Spaniards are the most passionate about is “La Lotería de Navidad” (“The Christmas Lottery”). This lottery has taken place every year since 1812.For better or worse, …
 
This is the story of an ad campaign produced for the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. Perennial runner-up in the sports shoe category, Reebok, was trying to make its mark and take down Nike. They chose two athletes, plucked them out of obscurity, gave them Reeboks to wear, and turned them into household names, spending $25 million dollars in the pr…
 
Most people are familiar with at least one version of the birth control pill's packaging -- a round plastic disc which opens like a shell and looks like a makeup compact. But the pill wasn’t always packaged this way. The first birth control pill to hit the market came in a simple glass bottle of loose tablets, like any other prescription pill.How t…
 
In the 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their baseball season at a brand new stadium called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, right along the downtown harbor. The stadium was small and intimate, built with brick and iron trusses—a throwback to the classic ballparks from the early 20th century. It was popular right from the start. No one knew it at the…
 
In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to come.The Yin And Yang Of BasketballThis piece is part of a podcast mini series ESPN called “Dunkumentarie…
 
In 1987, three years after moving to New York City, Maggie Wrigley found herself on the edge of homelessness. She was trying to figure out where to stay, when she heard about an abandoned tenement building on the Lower East Side. It was owned by the city, but it had been left empty and unmaintained. The building was full of rubble. Some of the wall…
 
This episode was recorded live as part of the Radiotopia West Coast Tour.It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had hit Anchorage, Alaska. 115 people died. Some houses had been turned completely upside down while others had skidded into the sea.There was no lig…
 
In the town of Colma, California, the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. Located just ten miles south of San Francisco, Colma is filled with rolling green hills, manicured hedges, and 17 full size cemeteries (18 if you include the pet cemetery). 73% of Colma is taken up by graveyards. The motto of the town? "It's great to be alive in C…
 
For most people, electricity only flows one way (into the home), but there are exceptions -- people who use solar panels, for instance. In those cases, excess electricity created by the solar cells travels back out into the grid to be distributed elsewhere. And in some states, people can can be paid for this excess electricity. The practice is call…
 
Los Angeles is rich with architectural diversity. On the same block, you could find a retro-futuristic Googie diner next to a Spanish-style mansion, sitting comfortably alongside a Dutch Colonial dwelling, all in close proximity to a Deconstructivist concert hall.In the golden era of Hollywood, in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the new movie industry tita…
 
When Warren Furutani was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, he sometimes heard his parents refer to a place where they once spent time -- a place they called “camp.” To him “camp” meant summer camp or a YMCA camp, but this was something different. During World War II the US government incarcerated Warren Furutani’s parents, along with over 110…
 
On the night of December 8, 2013, a huge crowd gathered on a tree-lined boulevard in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. The crowd was there to watch as a statue in the boulevard was pulled down by a crane. The toppled statue was of Vladimir Lenin - the communist leader who started the revolution that created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukr…
 
Logos used to be a thing people didn’t really give much thought to. But over the last decade, the volume and intensity of arguments about logos have increased substantially. A lot of this is just the internet being the internet. Logo redesigns, in particular, attract a lot of hyperbolic vitriol. I was wondering what this felt like to a designer, so…
 
In the 1980s, the United States experienced a refugee crisis. Thousands of Central Americans were fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling north through Mexico, and crossing the border into the U.S. [Note: Just tuning in? Listen to the previous episode.]In response to this mass migration, a network of churches across the country d…
 
In the 1980s, Rev. John Fife and his congregation at Southside Presbyterian Church began to help Central American migrants fleeing persecution from US backed dictatorships. Their efforts would mark the beginning of a new — and controversial — social movement based on the ancient religious concept of “sanctuary," the idea that churches have a duty t…
 
As the world entered the Atomic Age, humankind faced a new fear that permeated just about every aspect of daily life: the threat of nuclear war. And while the violent applications of atomic research had already been proven, governments and scientists hoped this powerful technology held promise for peaceful applications as well. As part of the "Atom…
 
Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the buildings we live in shape the kinds of people we become. His aim was nothing short of rebuilding the entire culture of the United States, changing the nation through its architecture. Central to that plan was a philosophy and associated building system he called Usonia. This is part 2/2 in Avery Trufelman's Uso…
 
On January 3, 1979, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department went to the home of Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother. The police were there because of a dispute over an unpaid gas bill. The officers approached her, and Love allegedly threatened them with a knife. They fired twelve times and killed her.The killing led th…
 
Part 2 where host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite "Mini-Stories." These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can't quite stretch into a full episode, but we love them anyway. Roman talks backwards flags, Katie appreciates an appreciation for Byker, Sharif finds paper towns, Kurt ope…
 
Host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite "Mini-Stories." These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can't quite stretch into a full episode, but we love them anyway. Roman talks concrete arrows, Sam squares Circleville, Kurt teaches us how to get out of a car, Emmett discovers the Big Z…
 
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