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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 99percentinvisible.org.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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429- Stuccoed in Time

Santa Fe is famous in part for a particular architectural style, an adobe (mudbrick) look that came to be called Pueblo Revival. This aesthetic combines elements of indigenous pueblo architecture and the New Mexico's old Spanish missions, resulting in mostly low, brown buildings with smooth edges. Buildings in the city's historical districts in particular have to follow a number of design guidelines so that they fit this desired look; deviating from those aesthetics can stir up a lot of controversy.  But this adherence to a single style hasn't always been the norm -- for a time, there was actually a powerful push to "Americanize" the city's built environment. Then, over a century ago, a group of preservationists laid out a vision for the look and feel of Santa Fe architecture, and in the process changed the city forever. Stuccoed in Time

43mins

2 Feb 2021

Rank #1

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327- A Year in the Dark

Early on the morning of September 20th, 2017, a category four hurricane named Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico. It was a beast of a hurricane -- the strongest one to hit the island since 1932. Daniel Alarcon went down to Puerto Rico to report on the aftermath of the storm. He wrote a piece for Wired about the almost year-long struggle to get power working on the island, and the utility worker who became a Puerto Rican folk hero. A Year in the Dark

32mins

31 Oct 2018

Rank #2

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167- Voices in the Wire

This week on 99% Invisible, we have two stories about the early days of broadcasting and home sound recording, produced by Radio Diaries and the Kitchen Sisters. The sounds that came out Frank Conrad’s Garage in 1919 and 1920 are … Continue reading →

38mins

3 Jun 2015

Rank #3

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199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball (Repeat)

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 … Continue reading →

19mins

7 Jun 2017

Rank #4

Most Popular Podcasts

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316- The Shipping Forecast

Four times every day, on radios all across the British Isles, a BBC announcer begins reading from a seemingly indecipherable script. "And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency," says the voice over the wire. "Viking, North Utsire; southwesterly five to seven; occasionally gale eight; rain or showers; moderate or good, occasionally poor." Cryptic and mesmerizing, this is the UK’s nautical weather report. The Shipping Forecast

27mins

25 Jul 2018

Rank #5

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304- Gander International Airport

The Gander Airport in Newfoundland was once the easternmost airfield in North America, so when transatlantic air travel was new and difficult through the mid-20th century, Gander played a critical role in getting people back and forth from Europe to America. This made the tiny town of Gander an unlikely international hub, hosting the likes of Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the Queen of England in the beautiful, mid-century modern lounge. The lounge and bar at the airport also served as the town’s major hotspot, so the locals just hung out there, always with the possibility they’d rub elbows with a huge international celebrity. Once airplanes could easily make it across the Atlantic without refueling in Gander, the airport got really quiet, but the town that hosted the most famous people in the world found a new purpose on 9/11 when they welcomed 7000 stranded passengers unable to enter US airspace. Gander International Airport

25mins

25 Apr 2018

Rank #6

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168- All In Your Head

People who make horror movies know: if you want to scare someone, use scary music. Some of the most creative use of music and sound to evoke fear and anxiety is on the TV show Hannibal. Hrishikesh Hirway of Song … Continue reading →

30mins

10 Jun 2015

Rank #7

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344- The Known Unknown

The tradition of the Tomb of the Unknowns goes back only about a century, but it has become one of the most solemn and reverential monuments. When President Reagan added the remains of an unknown serviceman who died in combat in Vietnam to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in 1984, it was the only set of remains that couldn’t be identified from the war. Now, thankfully, there will never likely be a soldier who dies in battle whose body can’t be identified. And as a result of DNA technology, even the unknowns currently interred in the tomb can be positively identified. The Known Unknown

45mins

6 Mar 2019

Rank #8

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281- La Sagrada Familia

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 still are figuring out, how Gaudí wanted the church to be built La Sagrada Familia

31mins

25 Oct 2017

Rank #9

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303- The Hair Chart

Andre Walker became famous for being Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, but he is also known for something else: a system that he created back in the 1990s to market his line of hair care products. The system categorizes natural hair types, and it's often referred to simply as "the hair chart." The chart identifies four hair types and within each of those categories there are different sub-types. The chart spans straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair. For Walker, the chart was all about selling his products. People could use it to identify their hair type and then buy a complementary product. But the chart has gone way beyond his own hair care line and become a way some African-American people talk and think about hair. Not everyone thinks the categories are helpful, and some of the criticism has its roots far back in American history. The Hair Chart This episode is a collaboration with The Stoop, a podcast hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba, which features stories from across the black diaspora.

23mins

17 Apr 2018

Rank #10

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296- Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

After World War 2, city planners in Amsterdam wanted to design the perfect “City of the Future.” They decided to build a new neighborhood, close to Amsterdam, that would be a perfect encapsulation of Modernist principles. It was called the Bijlmermeer, and it tested the lofty ideas of the International Congress of Modern Architecture on a grand scale. When it was over, no one would ever try it again. Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

23mins

21 Feb 2018

Rank #11

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318- Fire and Rain

Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, right next to Santa Barbara, sits Montecito, California. The region endures a major fire approximately once every 10 years. For this landscape, fire is predictable and it is inevitable. Now, coupled with multi-year drought, it is becoming unmanageable. For decades, locals have taken fire as a fact of life, rebuilding as needed. But that acceptance is getting harder to sustain as fires become more frequent and more intense -- and as communities are forced to reckon with rebuilding again and again. Area residents and officials are starting to rethink how they deal with disaster. Last year, there was another fire -- the largest in California history up to that point -- that made people feel a new sense of danger. Fire and Rain

30mins

8 Aug 2018

Rank #12

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430- The Doom Boom

Bradley Garrett is the author of Bunker: Building for the Times. People have always built underground survival shelters to stay safe from things like plagues or hurricanes. But in modern history, we've really outdone ourselves. Garrett will be our guide to the fascinating world of architecture for the end times. And we're going to find out why today we're going through a true bunker renaissance. The Doom Boom

33mins

9 Feb 2021

Rank #13

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251- Negative Space: Logo Design with Michael Bierut

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. … Continue reading →

44mins

14 Mar 2017

Rank #14

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341- National Sword

Where does your recycling go? In most places in the U.S., you throw it in a bin, and then it gets carted off to be sorted and cleaned at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). From there, much of it is shipped off to mills, where bales of paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic are pulped or melted into raw materials. Some of these mills are here in the U.S. And once upon a time, many of them were in China. Since 2001, China was one of the biggest buyers of American recycling.  That is, until last year, when China pulled a move that no one saw coming: they stopped buying. National Sword

41mins

13 Feb 2019

Rank #15

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313- Right to Roam

In 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. Plus, bothy talk. Right to Roam

28mins

27 Jun 2018

Rank #16

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306- Breaking Bad News

When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient -- that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment. That's why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes moment. And that’s not the only connection between acting and this particular facet of medicine. It turns out that one of the first doctors to recognize the challenges of this particular kind of doctor-patient communication wasn’t just a physician -- he was also a comedian. And he drew on that experience to transform the way that doctors break bad news. Breaking Bad News

39mins

9 May 2018

Rank #17

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Roman Mars on ZigZag

This is a special presentation of episode #4 of Radiotopia's newest show ZigZag. Manoush and Jen give themselves 36 hours in San Francisco to come up with a financial backup plan, just in case this whole blockchain-token-thing doesn’t work out. Silicon Valley runs on VC money so maybe Stable Genius Productions should too? First, they talk to a well-known venture capitalist on whether aligning their mission with investor expectations is a laughable goal. Then, they visit Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible and Radiotopia co-founder, at his headquarters in Oakland. He explains how he built his podcasting empire and advises Manoush and Jen on their plan. ZigZag Subscribe in Apple Podcasts Subscribe in RadioPublic

31mins

5 Jul 2018

Rank #18

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Judas and the Black Messiah, Episode 1: The Chairman

Proximity, 99% Invisible, and Warner Bros. present the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” an official film companion from the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX. In the “Judas and the Black Messiah Podcast,” host and critic Elvis Mitchell of KCRW is joined by Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. — son of Chairman Fred Hampton and head of the Black Panther Party Cubs — as well as the film’s actors and creative team, and by members of the Black Panther Party who knew Chairman Fred Hampton. Together, they look at the true stories behind the events portrayed in the film. In episode 1, we get the real story of how Fred Hampton became The Chairman. Watch the film and subscribe to the rest of the series here: Apple Podcasts Stitcher

36mins

12 Feb 2021

Rank #19

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295- Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

The Chase logo was introduced in 1961, when the Chase National Bank and the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged to form the Chase Manhattan Bank. At the time, few American corporations used abstract symbols for their identification. Seen as radical in that context, the Chase symbol has survived a number of subsequent mergers and has become one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Its graphic designer, Tom Geismar, has been a driving force in the field of design and graphic identity for over 60 years. The influence of the firm he co-founded can be felt in logos you see every day. Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar

27mins

13 Feb 2018

Rank #20