Episodes
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...
Published 08/21/19
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...
Published 08/13/19
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
Published 08/06/19
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
Published 07/31/19
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
Published 07/23/19
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
Published 07/17/19
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...
Published 07/09/19
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...
Published 07/02/19
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...
Published 06/25/19
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...
Published 06/18/19
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...
Published 06/11/19
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...
Published 06/04/19
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...
Published 05/28/19
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...
Published 05/24/19
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...
Published 05/21/19
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
Published 05/17/19
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”...
Published 05/14/19
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
Published 05/07/19
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...
Published 05/01/19
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...
Published 04/24/19
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
Published 04/16/19
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...
Published 04/09/19
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
Published 04/02/19
When Barnett Newman’s painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III was placed in the Sedelijk 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
Published 03/27/19
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...
Published 03/19/19