Show cover of 99% Invisible

99% Invisible

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


A River Runs Through Los Angeles
When you hear the word "river," you probably picture a majestic body of water flowing through a natural habitat. Well, the LA River looks nothing like that. Most people who see it probably mistake it for a giant storm drain. It's a deep trapezoidal channel with steep concrete walls, and a flat concrete bottom. Los Angeles was founded around this river. But decades ago it was confined in concrete so that, for better or worse, the city could become the sprawling metropolis that it is today. All these years later the county is still grappling with the consequences of those actions.Reported by Gillian Jacobs, guest hosted by 99PI producer, Vivian Le.A River Runs Through Los Angeles
43:36 16/07/2024
As Slow As Possible
When you go to a concert, you might try to get there right when the doors open. Or perhaps you take your time and skip the opening act. But generally, you want to be there when the show starts. In February, everyone who went to a concert in Halberstadt, Germany, showed up 23 years late. The performance is of a piece called ORGAN2/ASLSP. ASLSP stands for “as slow as possible,” which is how the composer meant for it to be played, and this particular day would involve a chord change. The last time ORGAN2/ASLSP had a chord change was in 2022, and this new chord will play until the next change, in August, 2026. There is a change the year after that, and the following year, and so on, until the year 2640. The full performance is meant to last 639 years. Reporter Gabe Bullard travels to Germany to witness the chord change and to discover why such a concert is even happening in the first place.As Slow As Possible
41:51 09/07/2024
The Containment Plan (rebroadcast)
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 living structures sitting side by side.The edge of Skid Row is clearly defined and it wasn’t drawn by accident.  It’s the result of a very specific plan to keep homeless people on one side and development on the other. And, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders: it’s a plan that Skid Row residents and their allies actually designed and fought for.The Containment Plan
26:01 02/07/2024
Backfired: The Vaping Wars
When two Stanford graduate students set out to create a new kind of cigarette that wouldn’t kill them, they didn’t foresee all the obstacles that lay ahead—or the powerful forces their invention would unleash. Nearly 10 years after the launch of the JUUL, Backfired: The Vaping Wars asks: Could e-cigarettes have been the solution to one of the world’s most pressing public health problems—or was this technology doomed to introduce a whole new generation to nicotine, and end up perpetuating an intractable addiction?Backfired is the latest podcast from Prologue Projects, the award-winning team behind Slow Burn, Fiasco, and Think Twice: Michael Jackson. Backfired is a show about the business of unintended consequences—what happens when solving one problem inadvertently leads to a host of new ones?In this tale of opportunity, addiction, and good intentions gone awry, hosts Leon Neyfakh and Arielle Pardes offer a definitive account of Juul Labs’ rise and fall, as well as the ubiquitous illegal vape market that sprouted up in its wake. Through dozens of original interviews, they gain access to the key players who got swept up—sometimes unwittingly—in the firestorm that reshaped the culture of nicotine.Backfired: The Vaping Wars
52:55 25/06/2024
The Power Broker #06: Mike Schur
This is the sixth official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. This week, Roman and Elliott sit down with Mike Schur, who created the critically acclaimed NBC comedy The Good Place, and co-created Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, Rutherford Falls, and Netflix’s upcoming, A Classic Spy. Prior to Parks, Michael spent four years as a writer-producer on the Emmy Award-winning NBC hit The Office.Mike also happens to be a big fan of The Power Broker, and has cited the book as his inspiration behind Parks & Rec.On today’s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover the first part of Part 5 of the book (Chapters 25 through Chapter 26), discussing the major story beats and themes.The Power Broker #6: Mike SchurJoin the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.
178:55 21/06/2024
Category 6
After Hurricane Camille caused widespread death and destruction along the US Gulf Coast in 1969, two scientists created the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale as a way to quickly warn the public when dangerous storms were on the way. Today, we’re still using the scale and its system of ranking storms as Categories 1 to 5. But in the 55 years since the scale was created, hurricanes have become more frequent, and they have gotten bigger, faster, more devastating. There's now debate among meteorologists about whether the scale is obsolete, and it may be time for something new.Category 6
39:06 18/06/2024
The Los Angeles Leaf Blower Wars
The leaf blower is one of the most hated objects in the modern world. They’re loud, they pollute, and… how important is a leafless lawn anyway? In a lot of towns and cities, the gas-powered leaf blower has been banned. In others, there are strict guidelines on where and when they can be used. In Los Angeles, California, the leaf blower has never gone quiet, but the war to ban them has been raging for decades.The Los Angeles Leaf Blower Wars 
35:46 11/06/2024
Fact Checking the Supreme Court
For a long time, the Court operated under what was called Legal Formalism. Legal formalism said that the job of any judge or justice was incredibly narrow. It was to basically look at the question of the case in front of them, check that question against any existing laws, and then make a decision. Unlike today, no one was going out of their way to hear what economists or sociologists or historians thought. Judges were just sticking to law books. The rationale for this way of judging was that if you always and only look at clean, dry law the decisions would be completely objective.In the late 19th, early 20th century a movement rose up to challenge legal formalism. They called themselves the legal realists. Fred Schauer, professor of law at University of Virginia, says the Realists felt that the justices weren’t actually as objective as they said they were. "Supreme Court justices were often making decisions based on their own political views, their own economic views, and would disguise it in the language of precedence or earlier decisions," says Schauer. The realists said lets just accept that reality and wanted to arm the judges with more information so those judges could make more informed decisions.For a long time the debate between realists and formalists had been mostly theoretical. That is until the arrival of the Brandeis Brief. The Brandeis brief came during a pivotal court case in the early 20th century. And the man at the center of that case was a legal realist and progressive reformer named Louis Brandeis.Fact Checking the Supreme Court 
44:13 04/06/2024
Uptown Squirrel [update]
In late 2018, 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.2024 update: We have a number!Uptown Squirrel
30:26 28/05/2024
The Lost Subways of North America
Los Angeles actually used to have a massive electric railway system in the early 1900s, called the Red Car. Jake Berman, the author of The Lost Subways of North America, tells us about how, time after time, when North American cities seemed just inches away from having a robust, utopian future of fast, reliable, and convenient public transportation systems, something gets in the way. That thing is sometimes dysfunctional local politics, sometimes it’s bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s the way our infrastructure favors cars over mass transit, and too often, it’s racism.583- The Lost Subways of North America
26:26 22/05/2024
The Power Broker #05: Brandy Zadrozny
This is the fifth official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. This week, Roman and Elliott also sit down with Brandy Zadrozny, a senior reporter for NBC News who covers misinformation, conspiracy theories, and the internet. Brandy recently finished The Power Broker, and she’s got a great perspective on what the book says about the press and its relationship to power, what has changed in journalism, and what has remained the same.On today’s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover the last section of Part 4 of the book (Chapters 21 through Chapter 24), discussing the major story beats and themes.The Power Broker #5: Brandy ZadroznyJoin the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.
131:53 18/05/2024
Rocket Man
In the twentieth century, the jetpack became synonymous with the idea of a ‘futuristic society.’ Appearing in cartoons and magazines, it felt like a matter of time before people could ride a jetpack to work. But jetpacks never became a mainstream technology, leaving many to wonder... why did they fall off the radar? 582- Rocket Man
40:20 14/05/2024
It's Howdy Doody Time!
The Howdy Doody Show is one of those pieces of 1950s ephemera that has come to symbolize mid-century American childhood. For over a decade, every weeknight at 5pm, kids all across the country would sit down in front of their parents’ tiny televisions and take in the wild west adventures of Buffalo Bob and his puppet sidekick Howdy Doody.The show was disproportionately important in the history of television. It was the first television program to reach 1,000 episodes, one of the first shows to broadcast in color, and it pioneered new ways of marketing products to children. But in the early days of the medium, especially when Howdy Doody first started, the world of television was strange. In many ways, the story of Howdy Doody is the story of the weird, wild-west days of early TV. A story in which programmers, advertisers, artists and money men were inventing everything as they went along. Starting with what to put on television in the first place.581- It's Howdy Doody Time!
37:16 07/05/2024
BONUS- Towers of Silence: Vulture Conservation
Recently we published an episode called Towers of Silence. It's about how the Parsis in India are grappling with the loss of vultures and how it changed something very intimate and meaningful for the community. It was reported by our own Lasha Madan and it is epic and it is beautiful. So first of all, go listen to that story if you haven't heard it. It's so good. On the one hand, it's a very specific story, it's about a unique set of circumstances that happened to a very specific community. But it also feels universally relevant. Because it's a story about death and how we choose to transition out of this world. It's about how we might react when there’s a major cultural shift that we cannot control. And importantly it is about a keystone species collapse, which is something we are on track to see more of in these times. Lasha Madan collected a ton of information about vulture conservation in their reporting but it didn't quite fit into the original story that we wanted to tell but it's so vital and interesting that we're releasing this bonus episode to cover it all.
32:18 03/05/2024
Mr. Yuk
Mr. Yuk is a neon green circular sticker with a cartoon face on it. His face is scrunched up with his eyes squeezed tight and his tongue is sticking out of its mouth. It's the face you make when you taste something disgusting. He's the pictorial embodiment of the sentiment of yuck. Aptly enough: he was designed to be the symbol for hazardous substances, aimed at deterring children from ingesting them. The idea what that if you saw a Mr. Yuk sticker on something around the house, it meant that that something was poison.Friend of the show, Gillian Jacobs, is a BIG FAN of Mr Yuk, who turns out to be a hometown hero of her beloved Pittsburgh, and talked Roman through the origins of the mean, green face that was meant to save children from their worst impulses.Plus, we revisit another story about warning symbols from our archive: the quest to find a symbol that would warn future humans of dangerous radiation 10,000 years in the future.Mr Yuk
56:15 30/04/2024
Towers of Silence
Situated right in downtown Mumbai, India is an area of about 55 acres of dense, overgrown forest. In one of the most populous cities in the world, this is a place where peacocks roam freely -- a space out of time. This forest is protected by a religious community. It has survived in a relatively undeveloped state in the middle of this gargantuan city. Importantly, it’s also home to an ancient tradition in crisis -- one that is central to the lives (and deaths) of a particular population.There’s a certain point in this forest beyond which almost no one can step -- only special caretakers of these grounds can go any further. They go by many names: khandia, nassassalar, pallbearer, corpse bearer. Their work here is holy. They carry dead bodies to their final resting place – atop stone structures that stand gray against the lush green. These buildings are called Towers of Silence.Towers of Silence
71:25 23/04/2024
The Power Broker #04: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
This is the fourth official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. Roman and Elliott also sit down with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. representative for New York's 14th congressional district, who describes the lasting impact Moses’ highways have made on her district, and her own philosophy when it comes to political power and bringing ambitious projects to life.On today’s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover the second section of Part 4 of the book (Chapters 16 through the end of Chapter 20), discussing the major story beats and themes.The Power Broker #4: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezJoin the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.
159:33 19/04/2024
Anything's Pastable: Eat Sauté Love
This week we're featuring an episode from The Sporkful's series on the creation of "Anything's Pastable," Dan Pashman's new pasta cookbook.Dan talks with Roman about how this massive project came to be and all the design decisions required to put together a cookbook.And then, in part two of “Anything’s Pastable,” Dan embarks on an epic trip across Italy in search of lesser-known pasta dishes — and to learn about the evolution of pasta more broadly. He starts in Rome, where food writer Katie Parla reveals a shocking truth about pasta. Then an Italian food historian challenges Dan’s thinking about carbonara. Finally, he heads south to meet a chef who was there when a regional specialty called spaghetti all’assassina (“assassin’s spaghetti”) was invented. All of this leads Dan to wonder: What does evolution look like in a food culture that’s so often depicted in sepia tones? And what’s his place in that process?Preorder Dan’s cookbook today (including signed copies), and see if he’s visiting a city near you on his tour of book signings and live podcast tapings with special guests! Follow Dan on Instagram to see photos and videos from the Anything’s Pastable journey.Anything's Pastable: Eat Sauté Love
44:43 16/04/2024
The Society of Ambiance Makers and Elegant Persons
Hailing from central African cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, sapeurs have become increasingly recognizable around the world. Since the 1970s, sapeurs (from: le sape, short for "Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes") have been known for donning technicolored three-piece suits with flamboyant accessories like golden walking sticks and leopard-print fedoras, and then cat-walking through their city streets.In recent years, Solange, Kendrick and SZA have all featured sapeurs in their music videos. The iconic British menswear designer Paul Smith did a whole spring line of sapeur-inspired suits and bowler hats.The Society of Ambiance Makers and Elegant Persons
35:18 09/04/2024
Chambre de Bonne
A chambre de bonne is usually one small room, on the top floor of a five- or six-story apartment building, and it’s usually just big enough to fit a bed and a table. It’s affordable housing in a city where finding housing is nearly impossible. Reporter Jeanne Boëzec tells about the history of the chambre de bonne apartments, and how while cute, they are also cramped and can be unpleasant spaces for people who have to live there, a living embodiment of the gap between the rich in Paris and everyone else.Chambre de Bonne
33:22 02/04/2024
Roman Mars Describes Athens GA As It Is
This is the third and final episode in a three-part series of Roman Mars recording on-location guides to the design features and interesting spots in cities he loves. Roman moved to Athens, Georgia, to pursue a PhD in plant genetics, but dropped out and got into the local music and art scene instead, and started making his way toward radio.Roman Mars Describes Athens GA As It IsNote: This series is made possible by the all-new 2024 Lexus GX and SiriusXM. 
36:50 29/03/2024
Autism Pleasantville
A few years back, journalist Lauren Ober was diagnosed with autism. She then made a podcast about her experience called The Loudest Girl in the World. And she found herself imagining a fantasy world where everything is tailored to Lauren’s very specific autistic needs. And she called this magical imagined place, wonderfully devoid of overwhelming stimuli "Autism Pleasantville.""Obviously," Ober notes, "there’s not a one-size fits all diagnosis or even definition of autism ... as the autism adage goes: 'If you know one autistic person…you know one autistic person.' But despite our wide variety of needs, I wanted to know how design is evolving to better accommodate us" -- how were ideals being handled in the real world.Autism Pleasantville 
32:46 27/03/2024
The Monster Under the Sink
In the middle of the 20th century, the small town of Jasper, Indiana did something that no other city had done before: they made garbage illegal. The city would still collect some things, like soup cans and plastics, but yucky junk, like food waste, wouldn't get picked up.This change was made possible by a new appliance: the garbage disposer – that little grinding machine at the bottom of a lot of kitchen sinks.The Monster Under the Sink
27:05 19/03/2024
The Power Broker #03: David Sims
This is the third official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. Blank Check podcast co-host and The Atlantic movie critic David Sims is our book club guest.On today’s show, Elliott Kalan, Roman Mars, and David Sims will cover the first section of Part 4 of the book (Chapters 11 through the end of Chapter 15), discussing the major story beats and themes.The Power Broker #3: David SimsJoin the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.
127:00 15/03/2024
This year marks the 40th anniversary of a lot of landmarks in pop culture, especially sci-fi and fantasy. So many franchises were born in 1984. Some came to define the genre or invent new genres. The great podcast Imaginary Worlds noticed this and produced a three-part series about 1984's Cambrian explosion of creativity that  landed on the big screen, the small screen, bookstore shelves and, of course, the toy store.In this episode we learn about at two iconic franchises that launched in 1984: Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They came from opposite ends of the business spectrum. Transformers was a top-down marketing synergy between American and Japanese toy companies along with Marvel Comics to compete against He-Man -- another TV toy behemoth. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle would eventually rival them in cultural dominance, but it began with two indie comic book creators making a black and white comic as a lark. But Turtles and Transformers both ended up wrestling with similar questions around what happens when you put the cart before the horse in creating content to sell products.Toyetic
39:12 13/03/2024
WARNING: This Podcast Contains Chemicals Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer or Other Reproductive Harm
Intimidating Proposition 65 warnings can be found on all kinds of products manufactured or distributed in the State of California. They can seem rather terrifying at first, but within the state, they are ubiquitous, on everyday objects from power tools to potato chips, dietary supplements, leather jackets, gas pumps, coffee tables, the list goes on. All of which raises the question: if these labels are on so many things, are they actually useful in warning us of real dangers?572- WARNING: This Podcast Contains Chemicals Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer or Other Reproductive Harm
42:39 05/03/2024
Roman Mars Describes Santa Fe As It Is
Roman Mars is on a mission to describe the cities that shaped who he is and how he thinks about design. Next up, Santa Fe. Santa Fe wasn’t always on the proverbial map — in fact, the Santa Fe railroad just passed it on by. A lot of care has been taken to keep Santa Fe cute and quaint over its history, with steps to preserve native architecture and historical design. The result is a mixture of structures old and new, but mostly made to look old, for better or worse.Roman Mars Describes Santa Fe As It IsNote: This series is made possible by the all-new 2024 Lexus GX and SiriusXM. 
33:21 02/03/2024
The Real Book [rebroadcast]
Since the mid-1970s, almost every jazz musician has owned a copy of the same book. It has a peach-colored cover, a chunky, 1970s-style logo, and a black plastic binding. It’s delightfully homemade-looking—like it was printed by a bunch of teenagers at a Kinkos. And inside is the sheet music for hundreds of common jazz tunes—also known as jazz “standards”—all meticulously notated by hand. It’s called the Real Book. But if you were going to music school in the 1970s, you couldn’t just buy a copy of the Real Book at the campus bookstore. Because the Real Book... was illegal. The world’s most popular collection of Jazz music was a totally unlicensed publication. The full story of how the Real Book came to be this bootleg bible of jazz is a complicated one. It’s a story about what happens when an insurgent, improvisational art form like Jazz gets codified and becomes something that you can learn from a book.The Real BookThis episode originally aired in April 2021Roman note: I love this episode. An all time favorite. Pass it along to someone jazzy if so inclined.
41:43 27/02/2024
Significant Others: A Sneak Peek at the Woman Behind Benedict Arnold’s Betrayal
It’s been said that history is written by the person at the typewriter. But who did the person who made history depend on? Often, it’s impossible to find out. But once in a while, we get lucky, and the story was not only recorded, it’s really good.Well that’s what this podcast is all about. “Significant Others” is a show that tells a story you might not know about a person you probably do.For example, in this episode we explore how Benedict Arnold might never have turned on his country were it not for his wife, Peggy, who influenced his betrayal.Head over to Significant Others to listen to the rest of the episode and to other stories like how Amelia Earhart would neither have found fame nor, possibly, disappeared over the Pacific, had it not been for her husband, George Putnam, or who is really to blame for Friedrich Nietzsche’s connection to Nazism. Listen and subscribe to “Significant Others” wherever you get your podcasts.
07:21 23/02/2024
You Are What You Watch
What we see on screen has this way of influencing our perception of the world, which makes sense because the average American spends 2 hours and 51 minutes watching movies and TV each day. That’s a whopping 19 percent of our waking hours. Walt Hickey is a data journalist and author of a new book called You Are What You Watch. In it, Walt makes a case for how much film and television shapes us as individuals and as a society, far beyond what we give it credit for.You Are What You Watch
31:15 21/02/2024

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