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.
The great Jacob Goldstein, author of Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing, stops by to tell us two stories about the design of paper currency around the world. First, the story of the making of the Euro banknotes, the design of which was supposed unify Europe and not rely on any one country's national heroes or monuments. Then we learn about China's early pioneering experiments in paper currency, hundreds of years before it caught on in the rest of the world. Real Fake Bridges
Axolotls are nature’s great regenerators. They are able to grow back not just their tails, but also legs, arms, even parts of vital organs, including their hearts. This remarkable ability is one of several traits that turned the axolotl into a scientific superstar. The axolotl is one of the most abundant laboratory animals in biology. They can be found swimming in tanks at universities all around the world. But in the wild they’ve only ever been found in one place: Mexico City.Model Organism
In 2015 the world was divided into two warring factions overnight. And at the center of this schism was a single photograph. Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of a dress that she planned to wear to her daughter's wedding and that photo went beyond viral. Some saw it as blue with black trim; others as white with gold trim. For his part, Wired science writer Adam Rogers knew there was more to the story -- a reason different people looking at the same object could come to such radically divergent conclusions about something as simple as color.Rogers recently wrote a book titled Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern. In this episode, Roman Mars talks with the author about how the pursuit to organize, understand, and create colors has been one of the driving forces shaping human history, starting with the story of this hotly debated piece of apparel from 2015 then winding back through built environments of global World's Fairs.Full Spectrum
What does water mean to you? In this feature, author Bonnie Tsui (Why We Swim), actress Joy Bryant, submarine pilot Erika Bergman, figure skater Elladj Baldé, 85-year-old synchronized swimmer Barbara Eison-White, professional mermaid Olivia Gonzales, and others share stories about the many ways water influences our lives.From Pop-Up Magazine, creators of this Field Guide series: "We recommend listening outside, near water if you can. Head to the ocean if you’re on the coast. Or walk to a nearby pond or creek. Sit by a fountain at a park. Or just pour yourself a glass of water."Plus, an excerpt of Roman Mars On The Anatomy Of A Good Story (w/ Michelle Fournet, Roman Mars, Pedro Pascal), part of the Periodic Talks podcast. It's a show about what gets people curious, from virtual experiences to celestial bodies, with Gillian Jacobs (Community, Netflix's LOVE) and Diona Reasonover (NCIS)A Field Guide to Water
When Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt were promoting The 99% Invisible City in late 2020, one question came up over and over again in conversations and interviews about our built environment: in what ways will the COVID pandemic change cities long term? Realistically, it's hard to answer a question about the future while in the midst of a crisis, but we can look to and extrapolate from precedents, like: designs born out of past disasters.War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design
Officially titled The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, it was often known simply as “Kniga” (translated: "book") because it was one of the only cookbooks to exist in the Soviet Union. The volume is peppered with glossy photographs of really lavish spreads and packed with text as well. There are recipes for lentils and crab salad and how to cook buckwheat nine different ways. But this book was meant to do so much more than show people how to make certain dishes — it's a Stalinist document aimed at addressing hunger itself in the USSR. "The book" was at the vanguard of a radical Soviet food experiment that, despite its numerous obstacles, transformed Russian cuisine.The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food
Britt Young is a geographer and tech writer based in the Bay Area. She also has what's called a "congenital upper limb deficiency." In other words, she was born without the part of her arm just below her left elbow. She's used different sorts of prosthetic devices her whole life, and in 2018, she celebrated the arrival of a brand new, multi-articulating prosthetic hand. This prosthetic hand has a sleek carbon fiber casing, with specific pre-programmed grips that she can control just by flexing the muscles in her residual limb. She can use a precision pinch to pick a hairpin off of the table, or a Hulk-style power fist to squeeze objects. This kind of assistive technology has been life-changing for a lot of people who have limb differences. But for Britt, in particular, it hasn't been life-changing at all. In fact, her cutting-edge bionic arm has been a pretty major disappointment. "It's just not what you imagine. It's not like I'm like everyone else now, it's something different."The Lows of High Tech
Hanko, sometimes called insho, are the carved stamp seals that people in Japan often use in place of signatures. Hanko seals are made from materials ranging from plastic to jade and are about the size of a tube of lipstick. The end of each hanko is etched with its owner’s name, usually in the kanji pictorial characters used in Japanese writing. This carved end is then dipped in red cinnabar paste and impressed on a document as a form of identification. Hanko seals work like signatures, only instead of signing on a dotted line, you impress your hanko in a small circle to prove your identity. But unlike a signature, which you can make with any old pen or touch screen, in Japan you need to have your own personal hanko with you whenever you stamp something, and you have to stamp it in person.
Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today those objects are housed in genteel institutions across the UK and the world. They usually come with polite plaques. The ABC podcast Stuff the British Stole is a six episode series about the not-so-polite history behind a few of those objects.We’re going to play the first episode and Roman talks to the presenter and creator Marc Fennell about the series.Stuff the British Stole
Every year, fights break out on airplanes. They happen between the people who lean back in their seats, and the people who get their knees smooshed. Sometimes planes have to be grounded because of these arguments. If you think about it, these arguments are the result of confusion. Both people paid for a seat on the airplane, but it's unclear who owns the space behind it. Jim Salzman and Michael Heller are law professors and the authors of a new book called Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives. They write about these common instances where ownership is not clear cut. According to Salzman and Heller, confusing ownership rules are often the result of poor ownership design. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality.Mine!
We revisit Katie Mingle's Right to Roam episode as we say goodbyeIn 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.Right to Roam
After Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last year, tens of thousands of people all over the world took to the streets to protest police violence against Black people. And if you look at images from these marches, you will probably start to notice a common color scheme -- one involving a lot of red, black, and green. The flag was invented to unite Black people all over the world living under racial repression. When it first came into existence, the flag posed some bold questions about where Black people owed their loyalty: was it to the nations where their lives were demeaned and threatened? Or to a new nation - one they would build entirely for themselves? For hundreds of thousands of Black people, the red-black-and-green symbolized the answer. Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green
Correction: Our staff producer pronounced the the Japanese word "ōbōn" incorrectly in this episode. It is pronounced OH-bohn not oh-BAHN.Let us be the first to wish you a Happy Flag Day, beautiful nerds! Anyone who has listened to 99% Invisible regularly knows we have a thing for flags, which can beautiful things that give communities something symbolic to rally around. This year, we decided to get the celebration started early then keep the party going with two whole weeks of flag-related stories. They look like normal Japanese flags (hinomaru) at a glance, but upon inspection, they are covered in handwritten notes often radiating outward in kanji from the central red circle (a sun against a field of white). Different messages are written in different hands directly on the fabric. These so-called "good luck flags" were gifted to soldiers, particularly during WWII, as part of a send-off from loved ones -- and their name in English comes from one of the most commonly written phrases on them: good luck. Antarctica is a wonderfully strange place, and not just because of its infamously frigid climate. This huge landmass doesn’t have an independent government or even a permanent human population. It also has a lot of flags, though strangely: no single official one. Flag Days: Good Luck, True South
Most people probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about their toilets, but they are both a modern marvel while also being somewhat of a failure of systems design. On the one hand, it has created a vast sanitation system that has helped add decades to human lifespan by reducing disease. But on the other hand, less than half of the world’s population can access a toilet that safely manages bodily waste, including many right here in the United States. We use about 100 trillion gallons of water for toilets every year at a time when water is becoming more scarce. While we see radical technological change in almost every other aspect of our lives, we remain stuck in a sanitation status quo—in part because the topic of toilets is taboo.Pipe Dreams
For the most part, we take time for granted; maybe we don’t have enough of it, but we at least know how it works --- well, most of the time. A lot of what we think about time is relatively recent, and some of what we take for granted isn't quite as universal as one might think. This series of time-centric stories challenges what you know (or think you know) about the way time works around the world.Matters of Time
Today, Berlin is one of the premier destinations for techno music fans. People come from all over the world to party all night to the rhythmic beat of Berlin's club scene. And this music that the city is most famous for developed in large part because of the thing the city is most infamous for: the Berlin wall, which divided the city into east and west for almost thirty years. When the wall fell in 1989, everyone was euphoric and parties started popping up everywhere. East Berlin was like a big playground of derelict buildings. It wasn't just the abandoned apartments. There were also former military sites and factories that had been shut down and buildings that had been condemned. And these places were perfect for techno. Tanz Tanz Revolution
If you look around you right now, about 90% of what you’re looking at came to you onboard a cargo ship—your television, your sofa, most of the stuff in your kitchen. But as the number of these cargo ships has increased, so has a problem: workers stuck on ships that have been completely abandoned by the owners, leaving them stranded out at sea without basic supplies like food. In some cases, seafarers (that's the industry term for cargo ship workers) have been stuck on these abandoned vessels without enough supplies for months, or even years.Abandoned ShipsThis episode was produced in collaboration with the podcast Kerning Cultures, a podcast that makes audio stories - like this one - from the Middle East and North Africa.
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.Curb Cuts plus a special announcement from Roman Mars about the future of 99pi.
On the show this week, we’re bringing you an episode of a new podcast called, La Brega. And to tell us all about the series is Alana Casanova-Burgess. Casanova-Burgess traces back the story of the boom and bust of Levittown, a massive suburb that was founded on the idea of bringing the American middle-class lifestyle to Puerto Rico during a time of great change on the island. Casanova-Burgess (herself the granddaughter of an early Levittown resident) explores what the presence of a Levittown in Puerto Rico tells us about the promises of the American Dream in Puerto Rico.
La Brega in Levittown
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