99% Invisible

Roman Mars

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.

  • 43 minutes 36 seconds
    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

    16 July 2024, 6:27 pm
  • 41 minutes 51 seconds
    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

    9 July 2024, 10:10 pm
  • 26 minutes 1 second
    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

    2 July 2024, 9:25 pm
  • 52 minutes 55 seconds
    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

    25 June 2024, 4:45 pm
  • 2 hours 58 minutes
    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 Schur

    Join the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.

    21 June 2024, 5:23 pm
  • 39 minutes 6 seconds
    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

    18 June 2024, 6:06 pm
  • 35 minutes 46 seconds
    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


    11 June 2024, 10:48 pm
  • 44 minutes 13 seconds
    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


    4 June 2024, 10:48 pm
  • 30 minutes 26 seconds
    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

    28 May 2024, 9:08 pm
  • 26 minutes 26 seconds
    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

    22 May 2024, 12:28 am
  • 2 hours 11 minutes
    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 Zadrozny

    Join the discussion on Discord and our Subreddit.

    18 May 2024, 12:33 am
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