99% Invisible

99% Invisible

United States

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible (99 Percent Invisible) is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars, KALW in San Francisco, and Radiotopia from PRX. Learn more: http://99percentinvisible.org Proud member of PRX’s Radiotopia.

Episodes

248- Atom in the Garden of Eden  

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 “Atoms For Peace” efforts, experts would be mobilized to apply atomic science to the fields of energy, medicine, and agriculture. One of the products of these initiatives were the atomic gardens of the 1950s and 60s—experiments that used radioactive material to genetically alter plants into what they hoped would be better, stronger breeds. And the legacies of these largely forgotten experiments are still around today in the form of fruits, vegetables, and grains that can be found in grocery stores and markets the world over. Atom in the Garden of Eden

247- Usonia the Beautiful  

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 Usonia series. Usonia the Beautiful Listen to part 1 here.

246- Usonia 1  

Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This modest home would go on to shape the way working- and middle-class Americans live to this day. And it all started with a journalist from Milwaukee. Usonia 1

245- The Eponymist  

Eponym (noun):  A person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named; a name or noun formed after a person. An eponym, almost by definition, has some kind of story behind it — some reason it came to be named after a specific person. In this double-feature episode, Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist speaks with Roman Mars about his fixation with eponyms. The Eponymist

244- The Revolutionary Post  

Winifred Gallagher, author of How the Post Office Created America: A History, argues that the post office is not simply an inexpensive way to send a letter. The service was designed to unite a bunch of disparate towns and people under one flag, and in doing so, she believes the post office actually created the United States of America. The Revolutionary Post

243- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle  

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 the department to research non-lethal weapons to see if there was some alternative that would reduce the LAPD’s reliance on guns. Daryl Gates, the Police Chief at the time, told the L.A. Times, “What we need is that thing used in Buck Rogers… to zap’em, freeze’em, stop’em.” After several years of development, an engineer named Jack Cover invented a weapon to do just that, one he designed to be non-lethal. He named it after a science fiction novel from his childhood called “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”

242- Mini-Stories: Volume 2  

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 opens our eyes to Knox boxes, and Avery opens our eyes to the chart we all know, but know little about. Mini-Stories: Volume 2

241- Mini-Stories: Volume 1  

Host Roman Mars talks to the 99pi producers about their favorite “Mini-Stories.” These are little anecdotes or seeds of a story about design and architecture that can’t quite stretch into a full episode, but the staff loves them anyway. Roman talks concrete arrows, Sam squares Circleville, Kurt teaches us how to get out of a car, Emmett discovers the Big Zero, and Delaney listens for a little chirp. Mini-Stories: Volume 1 Leave a comment on Mini-Stories page if you have any suggestions for Volume 2.

240- Plat of Zion  

The urban grid of Salt Lake City, Utah is designed to tell you exactly where you are in relation to Temple Square, one of the holiest sites for Mormons. Addresses can read like sets of coordinates. “300 South 2100 East,” for example, means three blocks south and 21 blocks east of Temple Square. But the most striking thing about Salt Lake’s grid is the scale. Blocks are 660 feet on each side. That means walking the length of two football fields from one intersection to the next. By comparison, nine Portland, Oregon city blocks can fit inside one Salt Lake block. Plat of Zion

239- Guano Island  

In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time. The expansion closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining. The preserve is nowhere near the mainland United States nor is it all in close range to Hawaii. Still, President Obama was able to protect this piece of ocean in the name of the United States. To understand how the U.S. has jurisdiction over these waters in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, one has to look back to the 19th Century when, for a brief period, the U.S. scoured the oceans looking for rock islands covered in guano. That is: seabird poop. Guano Mania

238- NBC Chimes  

The NBC chimes may be the most famous sound in broadcasting. Originating in the 1920s, the three key sequential notes are familiar to generations of radio listeners and television watchers. Many companies have tried to trademark sounds but only around 100 have ended up being accepted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office — and NBC’s iconic chimes were the first. This story from the new podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz features the last person to play the NBC chimes on the NBC radio network, broadcaster Rick Greenhut, as well as radio historian John Schneider. Twenty Thousand Hertz is an audio program that tells “the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” NBC Chimes

237- Dollar Store Town  

Dollar stores are not just a U.S. phenomenon. They can be found in Australia and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Mexico. And a lot of the stuff—the generic cheap stuff for sale in these stores—comes from one place. A market in China, called the International Trade Market, or: the Futian market. Dollar Store Town

236- Reverb  

Through a combination of passive and active acoustics, architects and acousticians can control the sounds of spaces to fit any kind of need. With sound-proofing and selective-amplification, we can add reverb or take it away. We can make churches sound like clubs and clubs sound like opera houses. This degree of acoustic control, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Up until the early 1900s, designers and engineers knew very little about the effects of architecture on sound. Architectural acoustics were pretty much a roll of the dice in any given project. Until Wallace Sabine. Reverb

235- Ten Letters for the President  

People who write the White House know that the president himself will most likely not see their message. Many of their letters start with phrases like, “I know no one will read this.” Although someone does read those letters. And sometimes that person is Fiona Reeves, Director of Presidential Correspondence at the White House. She and a group of 45 staffers, 35 interns, and 300 rotating volunteers read thousands of letters sent to Barack Obama, who has specifically requested to receive ten letters to read every night. Ten Letters for the President A version of this piece originally aired on Slate’s Working podcast as part of a series on White House jobs produced by Jacob Brogan and Mickey Capper.

234- The Shift  

Every now and again, a truly great athlete shatters all previous assumptions about what’s possible to achieve in a sport. When this happens, opposing teams scramble to find ways to stop them or slow them down. In basketball, teams tried to to stop Shaquille O’Neil by immediately fouling him (the “hack-a-shaq” strategy); in soccer, opposing teams continuously foul the great Argentinean player, Leo Messi, before he can dribble through the defense. But in baseball, the solution for stopping the greatest hitter of all time was to actually redesign the game itself. And it started in the 1940s with Ted Williams. The solution was “The Shift.” 99% Invisible was a collaboration this week with FiveThirtyEight — the Data Journalism site owned by ESPN.

233- Space Trash, Space Treasure  

In the summer of 1961 the upper stage of the rocket carrying the Transit 4A satellite blew up about two hours after launch. It was the first known human-made object to unintentionally explode in space, and it created hundreds of fragments of useless space junk. Some of these pieces were pulled into the atmosphere where they burned up but around 200 of them are still up and orbiting today. At the time, people were not all that concerned about a few bits of metal floating around in the vastness of space. But like the ocean and other frontiers, space isn’t endless as it first appears. Space Trash, Space Treasure THIS IS IT: SUPPORT RADIOTOPIA TODAY! DRIVE ENDS 10/28

232- McMansion Hell  

Few forms of contemporary architecture draw as much criticism as the McMansion, a particular type of oversized house that people love to hate. McMansions usually feature 3,000 or more square feet of space and fail to embody a cohesive style or interact with their environment. Kate Wagner, architecture critic and creator of McMansion Hell, is on a mission to illustrate just why these buildings are so terrible. McMansion Hell: The Devil is in the Details Support 99pi and Radiotopia today! Be part of the 5000 backer FreshBooks challenge: FreshBooks will donate $40,000 to Radiotopia if we get 5000 total new donations during this drive. FreshBooks makes intuitive and beautiful cloud accounting software for small businesses.

231- Half a House  

On the night of February 27th, 2010, a magnitude of 8.8 earthquake hit Constitución, Chile and it was the second biggest that the world had seen in half a century. The quake and the tsunami it produced completely crushed the town. By the time it was over, more than 500 people were dead, and about 80% of the Constitución’s buildings were ruined. As part of the relief effort, an architecture firm called Elemental was hired to create a master plan for the city, which included new housing for people displaced in the disaster. But the structures that Elemental delivered were a radical and controversial approach toward housing. They gave people half a house. Support the Radiotopia annual drive today!

230- Project Cybersyn  

On September 11, 1973, a military junta violently took control of Chile, which was led at the time by President Salvador Allende. Allende had become president in a free and democratic election. After the military coup, General Augusto Pinochet took power and ruled Chile as a dictator until 1990. The military regime dissolved the congress, took control of the media and went about dismantling the socialist and democratic institutions that Allende’s government had built. In the midst of this takeover, the military discovered a strange room in a nondescript office building in downtown Santiago. The room was hexagonal in shape with seven white fiberglass chairs arranged in an inward facing circle. This “operations room” (or: opsroom) was the physical interface for a complex system called Cybersyn.

124- Longbox  

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

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