Pedro Kehl - Webdesigner

An Ode to the 99% Invisible


I am fascinated by the complexity in the simplest of things. In the ingenuity, dedication and care that can be found in the most trivial object or gesture. In the architecture of a famous building, in the design of a national flag, in the ethics of building a prison, in an art installation.

99% Invisibile is a podcast dedicated to that: appreciating the world we live in through the lens of design, architecture and culture. Created and hosted by Roman Mars, a geneticist turned radio producer. Owner of an unmistakable voice from the first words that start each episode: “This is 99% invisible. I am Roman Mars”.

Every episode of 99 is a gem. All are wonderfully produced. Everyone teaches something fascinating, even when at first the title leads you to believe that nothing there will interest you. The program has also become a generous portal to present other fascinating podcasts such as Song Exploder (which became a Netflix series), Ear Hustle, Everything is Alive and so many others.

On July 19, the show completed 500 episodes, with specials on vernacular design, and I felt inspired to do the absurdity of trying to list some of my favorite episodes. It’s a silly effort, because I’m certainly going to forget several that deserve to be here, but in any case… here goes.

The Pruitt-Igo Myth: The episode tells the story of a set of buildings erected in St Louis with the intention of to solve the housing problem for low-income people. A series of misfortunes - and, especially, the lack of support from the public administration -, doomed the venture, helping to consolidate the idea that sets of the type “don’t work”.

The Modern Moloch: When automobiles began to take over cities, they began to occupy streets that were once pedestrianized. When pedestrian collisions began to kill and maim thousands, the auto industry needed to change the narrative, and through lobbying create laws that made pedestrians responsible for the risk of walking on the streets.

An Architect’s Code: Architects have a code of ethics, which according to groups such as “Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility” (ADPSR) should prevent the design and construction of facilities that violate human rights. Prisons with execution chambers or isolation cells, for example.

Three Records from Sundown: episode about the epic, wonderful, one-of-a-kind Nick Drake.

The Children of Magenta: presents the risks of unrestricted reliance on automatic systems (airplane autopilot, for example), that when they fail, they leave humans with the feeling of absolute lack of control and knowledge over their machines: the paradox of automation.

The Sunshine Hotel: A beautifully produced episode about the history of New York’s Sunshine Hotel.

Rajneeshpuram: the surreal story (which also became an excellent Netflix documentary) about the religious community created in Oregon by mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

The Landlord’s Game: the famous “Monopoly” that today looks like a celebration of capitalism, came up with the name “Landlord’s Game” and had a completely different mission: to demonstrate that capitalism leads to a disproportionate accumulation of wealth, at the expense of the poverty of others. The game, however, offered the ability to play with a different set of rules, leading to a more even distribution of resources.

The Lost Cities of Geo: About the effort of a group of programmers and tech enthusiasts to save the archives of ancient geocities.

These are just some examples. The 99% is very generous and covers a plethora of other interesting topics. Until the next time!