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99% Invisible: The Latest Architecture and News

From Podcast to Print, Roman Mars Discusses The 99% Invisible City

Over the last ten years, the podcast 99% Invisible has been captivating listeners throughout the world by exposing the overlooked and seemingly mundane aspects of architecture and design. While the show had modest beginnings in creator Roman Mars’s bedroom, it has now grown to more than 400 episodes generating over 400 million downloads.

This week, fans can also hold the show’s stories in their hands in the form of a new book titled The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, which Mars co-wrote with digital director and producer Kurt Kohlstedt. Composed of research and reporting from the podcast as well as brand new stories, the book (illustrated by Patrick Vale) highlights design considerations that often go unnoticed.

Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?

Though the Las Vegas Strip may be garish to some, with its borderline intrusive décor and “pseudo-historical” architecture, some professional architects, most notably Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, have become captivated by the “ornamental-symbolic elements” the buildings present. The two architects developed the curious design distinction between a “duck” and a “decorated shed”, depending on the building’s decorative form. In his essay for 99% Invisible, Lessons from Sin City: The Architecture of “Ducks” versus “Decorated Sheds”, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how the architects implemented their knowledge of ornamentation in their own works and began an architectural debate still ongoing today.

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Love in Las Vegas: 99% Invisible Illuminates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Postmodern Romance

Which building is better, the duck or the ornamented shed? More importantly, what kind of architecture does the average American prefer? In their landmark 1972 publication Learning From Las Vegas, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi probed these questions by turning their back on paternalistic modernism in favor of the glowing, overtly kitsch, and symbolic Mecca of the Las Vegas strip. From a chance encounter during a meeting in the Library of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and shared trips to the strip to critically shaping a new generation of architects, discover the hidden details of the romance and city that defined postmodernism in this latest episode from 99% Invisible.

99% Invisible Investigates the Utopian and Dystopian Histories of the Bijlmermeer

How can we plan a better city? The answer has confounded architects and urban planners since the birth of the industrial city. One attempt at answering came in the form of a spectacular modernist proposal outside of Amsterdam called the Bijlmermeer. And, as a new two-part episode by 99% Invisible reveals, it failed miserably. But, like all histories, the story is not as simple as it first appears.

99% Invisible Recalls the Unknown Arts Awards of the Olympic Games

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London Olympic Stadium by Populous. Image © Morley von Sternberg

We’ve all heard of the record-breaking times, longest distances and of course, winners of those coveted medals, but according to 99% Invisible there is a lesser-known Olympic Games honor participants have received: awards in architecture. In an article tracing the history of this bizarre tradition, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how medals were awarded to five categories of the arts during the Olympic Games, presented to participants alongside their sporting competitors.

11 Architecture, Design and Urbanism Podcasts to Start Listening to Now

It can sometimes feel as if the world is divided into two camps: those who do not listen to podcasts (probably because they don’t know what a podcast is) and those who listen to podcasts, love podcasts, and keep badgering their friends for recommendations so they can start listening to even more.

Unlike other media, it’s notoriously difficult to discover and share podcasts – even more so if you’re looking for a podcast on a niche subject like architecture, design or urbanism. To help you in your hour of need, Metropolis’ Vanessa Quirk (author of Guide to Podcasting) and ArchDaily’s James Taylor-Foster (whose silvery tones you may have heard on various architecture and design audio stories) have come together to compile this list of eleven podcasts you should subscribe to.

99% Invisible Explores the Strange Phenomenon of Rotary Jails

99% Invisible has recently published a review of rotary jails, a strange prison architecture system in which cell blocks turn to align with the position of a single door, in the attempt to create better security. Used around the early 20th century, this odd, carousel-like technology spread across the United States in mainly Midwestern towns.

99% Invisible Tackles McMansions and the Architecture of Evil

Architecture critic Kate Wagner has collaborated with 99% invisible on a podcast and a guest column delving into the tragedies of McMansions and the representation of evil through architecture in film, respectively.

In the podcast, Wagner, who is the author of McMansion Hell, is interviewed by Roman Mars and explains how the McMansion typology evolved, as well as how it became so despised, delving into topics of architectural history and representations of wealth.

Through her article as a guest columnist, Wagner explores the real-world buildings used in film to depict the evil corporation archetype in movies like Robocop, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.

99% Invisible Discusses How Algae Biotechnology Can Affect the Urban Environment

In a recent article for 99% Invisible, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how integrating microalgae into buildings can create a dualistic system of living and built, in order to perform services like create shade, generate power, and work with HVAC systems to modulate interior environments.

Projects that utilize such technology include bioreactors that produce oxygen and bio-fuel, a building with a bio-adaptive façade, and a street lamp that filters carbon dioxide from the urban environment.

Half A House Builds A Whole Community: Elemental’s Controversial Social Housing

In Chile, a middle-class family may inhabit a house of around 80 square meters, whereas a low-income family might be lucky enough to inhabit 40 square meters. They can’t afford a large “good” house, and are henceforth often left with smaller homes or building blocks; but why not give them half a “good” house, instead of a finished small house? In the 1970s a professor by the name John F.C. Turner, teaching at a new masters program at MIT called “Urban Settlement Design In Developing Countries”, developed an idea surrounding the concept that people can build for themselves. 99% Invisible has covered a story, produced by Sam Greenspan, on how this idea has evolved, and what it has turned into: Half A House.

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Can't Build Up? Why Not Build Down? The Case For Subterranean Architecture

While most cities strive for a sustainable level of urban density, there are limitations at play that can restrict the amount of upwards growth. In Mexico City, for example, height restrictions guide the growth outwards rather than upwards, and often the preservation of historic low-rise architecture halts expansion plans. In an attempt to mine the possibilities for alternative expansion, Kurt Kohlstedt from 99% Invisible has presented a round-up of the different ways in which architecture can instead grow below the ground surface.

Never-before-heard Audio Gives us Insight to the Creativity of Prominent Architects and Reveals Forgotten Bauhaus Secrets

In two intriguing new podcasts, the team over at 99% Invisible uncovered some never-before-heard audio and forgotten secrets about elements of architectural history. In the first, The Mind of an Architect, producer Avery Trufelman explores the audio archives of the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR), where a study undertaken in the late 1950s mapped the personalities of prominent architects. Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, and Richard Neutra were among the study group, and the data came to some interesting conclusions about the role of ego and the presence of creativity.

In the second, Photo Credit; The Negatives of the Bauhaus Sam Greenspan explores the misattribution of credit for some of the most prolific images of the Bauhaus. Taken in the 1930s by German photographer Lucia Moholy, the historic images paint one of the clearest pictures of life at the Bauhaus. In the turmoil of the war, her negatives were lost, and absorbed by the school's collection, denying her the credit she deserved.

Standing Out or Fitting In? How Do Architects Approach Their Context

All architects desire recognition of their built work; for their signature design style to be identified, or for the quality of materials and details to outshine those around it. Unfortunately, if every new architectural structure was to insert itself into its context looking to be the star, soon it would become impossible to gauge the civic relevance of the area. Some buildings, such as Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, appear dislocated with due cause, but others stand out for the sake of standing out, turning their back on their rich historical setting.

While there can be no singular strategy for contextual integration, Kurt Kohlstedt argues that a consideration of historical context, whether eventually chosen to acquiesce with or deny, will result in richer and more engaging built environment. In his latest essay for 99% Invisible, Kohlstedt unpacks the myriad ways in which a new building can engage with what was there before, highlighting examples which successfully and unsuccessfully take up the challenge. He acknowledges the difficulty of finding the sweet spot, as many designs are unable to navigate the "fine line between contextual and contemporary."

What Will Become of America's Big Box Stores?

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© flickr user walmartmovie. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Walmart Supercenter is generally considered one of the great antagonists of architecture around the world – the hulking behemoth who sold its integrity for the consumer convenience of having everything in one place. Though the first Walmart Supercenter didn’t open until 1988, big box stores have existed in some form since the 1960s, luring in shoppers with low prices and curbside loading lanes. For all the user psychology design that goes into them, the original designs of these buildings rarely pay much mind to their architectural or urban consequences, excluding a few notable exceptions.

Regardless, for the past 20 years big box stores have continued to prosper, prompting tenants to leave their homes and move on to even larger structures, leaving behind giant, open frameworks – for sale on the cheap. In a recent essay for 99% Invisible entitled Ghost Boxes: Reusing Abandoned Big-Box Superstores Across America, author Kurt Kohlstedt explores the architectural potential of these megastructures, drawing inspiration from the architects and communities that have successfully converted them into valuable assets.

99% Invisible Explores Brutalism, From London to Boston

In the latest episode of 99% Invisible, Hard to Love a Brute, Roman Mars and Avery Trufelman take a look at the potted history of the "hulking concrete brutes" of post-war Europe, centring on the UK, and the US east coast. Exploring Ernö Goldfinger's Balfron and Trellick towers, while making a pitstop in Boston, MA, this twenty minute podcast examines why people "love to hate" Brutalism and why, "as harsh as it looks, concrete is an utterly optimistic building material."

The Latest 99% Invisible Podcast Will Have You on the “Edge of Your Seat”

“A Chair is a difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” – Mies van der Rohe

In his latest 99% Invisible podcast, Roman Mars takes listeners to the edge of their seats (literally), as he tackles one of design’s unique challenges: the chair. From Van der Rohe to Gehry, Hadid, Libeskind and Corbusier, “if they’ve designed a big building, chances are they’ve designed a thing on which to sit,” begins Mars. Yet the complexity of chair design comes from the fact that a chair “disappears when in use...Chairs need to look fantastic when empty, and remain invisible (and comfortable) while in use,” states Mars. And with numerous recent studies showing the negative impacts of sitting too much, innovative chair design is now more important than ever.

Listen to the full podcast and check out some well-known chairs designed by architects after the break.

The Latest 99% Invisible: Hundertwasser and His Fight Against the Godless Line

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Hot Springs Village, Bad Blumau, Styria, Austria. Image © Flickr CC User Enrico Carcasci

In the latest episode of his 99% Invisible podcast, Roman Mars digs into the work of lesser-known architect Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. Often cited for his colorful and curvilinear forms, his name translates to “Multi-Talented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Colored Hundred Waters.” In everything from his name to his unusual ideas put forth in manifestos, it is immediately evident that Hundertwasser was no ordinary architect. Listen to the podcast and check out some of Hundertwasser’s works after the break.

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Should Architects Follow a Code of Ethics?

In the latest episode of his 99% Invisible podcast, Roman Mars bravely takes on a very sensitive topic: the design of prisons which contain execution chambers or house prisoners in solitary confinement. More specifically, the podcast discusses whether architects have a moral duty to decline these commissions and whether, as a profession, architecture should have a code of ethics which prevents registered architects from participating in such designs.

He compares architecture to the medical profession, where the American Medical Association imposes an ethical code on its members which all but forbids them from taking part in execution by lethal injection, based on medicine's general aim of preservation, rather than destruction of life. The American Institute of Architect's ethical code is both generic and meager in comparison: “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.”