Book Review: The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt


Author: Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
Title: The 99% Invisible City
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, [2020]
Summary/Review:
99% Invisible is one of my absolute favorite podcasts series. It focuses on “the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world,” which sounds like a highly specific thing but actually leads to a wide diversity of fascinating topics. This book is a hand “field guide” to the little secrets of design you find in cities around the world. It includes many of the stories previously covered in podcast episodes as well as a lot of new material. You can read it straight through like I did, hop around the book at your leisure, or even just refer to it as a reference book.

Oddly fascinating topics you can learn about include:

  • decoding the spray paint markings on pavement made by utility companies
  • electrical substations disguised as ordinary houses
  • seemingly useless architecture that is nevertheless maintained, known as “Thomassons”
  • municipal flag design
  • the Olympic history of those inflatable figures that dance outside of car washes
  • the mysteries of rotaries/traffic circles
  • boxes on the exterior of many buildings with emergency information for first responders
  • an island named for Busta Rhymes
  • synanthropes, or the animals who live among us (squirrels, fish, pigeons, racoons, etc.)
  • hostile design the specifically targets “undesirable” people
  • the story of a Buddha statue placed in an intersection to prevent littering that became a local shrine

All of this and more in this fascinating volume!


Recommended books:

 

 

Rating: *****

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 16


99% Invisible :: Ubiquitous Icons

The story behind three symbols that have become mainstays: the Peace Symbol, the Smiley Face, and the Power Icon on electronic devices.  Note: Forrest Gump was not involved.

Best of the Left :: Why We Cannot Have Nice Things (How Racism Hurts Everyone, Including White People)

This collection of stories from progressive news outlets takes “a look at some of the ways that conservative policies, willed into existence almost exclusively by white people, measurably hurt people and shorten life expectancies, including those who most fervently support the self-destructive policies.”

Throughline :: The Siege of Mecca

The purpose of Throughline is to trace the history that shapes current events, but The Siege of Mecca of November 20, 1979 is something I’d never heard about before at all, and think it’s an important event to have knowledge of.

Radio Boston :: 60 Years Ago, A Folk Revival Began At Passim In Cambridge

Passim, the tiny folk club in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, was an important place for me in my 20s & 30s when I attended a lot of shows and even volunteered there quite a bit.  There’s a lot of great history in this interview.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 27


BackStory :: Moon, Man, and Myths

The History Guys commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with an interview with flight director Gene Kranz, among other things.

Code Switch :: Chicago’s Red Summer

Another anniversary, of a grim sort, of the race riots 100 years ago in Chicago and other American cities that targeted African American soldiers returning from the World War among others.

Fresh Air :: 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

This podcast includes interviews with astronauts Michael Collins and Alan Shepherd as well as test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Hub History  :: The Cessna Strafer

A bizarre incident in 1989 when a man who’d just murdered his wife took to the air in a small airplane and fired an assault rifle at people on the ground in Boston.  This seems like a very serious crime, and yet I only learned about it a few years ago, even though I was alive and living in an adjacent state at the time.

99% Invisible :: Invisible Women

An interview with Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, on how women are ignored in the design of just about everything, and the dangerous effects of this bias.

On the Media :: What, Me Worry?

Mad Magazine, the satire magazine enjoyed by decades of children going back to the 1950s, is going out of print.  Journalist Jeet Heer talks about the magazines importance and influence.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench


Author: John Hench
Title: Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show 
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2009)
Summary/Review:

John Hench joined the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939, became an Imagineer in 1954, and continued working up until a few days before his death in 2004.  So there’s no one better to write about how Disney Parks are designed with an emphasis on detail and drawing the viewer in as an active participant.  I particularly like how he talked about a three-dimensional cross-disolve, using a film term to describe the ways in Disney Imagineers design transitions between different lands and attractions.  Hench also goes into great detail about how different colors are used, and how he gave a lot of thought to the color of the sky in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.  This is a nice, richly illustrated dive into the world of imagineering, although I admit I’m still looking for the book that will really get into the nitty-gritty.

Recommended books: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real by The Imagineers and The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey
Rating: ***1/2

#TryPod Day 2: 99% Invisible


All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

99% Invisible is one of my absolute favorite podcasts.  It’s a podcast about design, which is kind of vague and misleading, because this podcast encompass a wide variety of topics.  Each episode, host Roman Mars leads the listener through the unoticed architecture and design that shape our world.

Some of my favorite episodes:

  • Frozen assets” – The story of Frederic Tudor, the Ice King.
  • Project Cybersyn” – Fascinating story of a futuristic room designed to be the place where the economy of Chile would be controlled under the Salvador Allende government.  It would be destroyed by the Pinochet dictatorship with only one photograph surviving.
  • On Average” – It’s a cliché to say that no one is average, but the science bears it out.  Not only that but it’s actually dangerous to assume that an average can define a human characteristic.  And who knew that the military was behind the sizing of everything?
  • Photo Credit” –  This episode is about the photographer Lucia Moholy who documented the architecture and designs of the Bauhaus movement basically keeping the style alive when World War II and the Eastern Bloc prevented access to the original works, but she received little credit for her art and contributions.
  • A Sea Worth It’s Salt” – The unlikely story of California’s largest body of water, created by accident in the early 1900s, turned into a tourist resort in the 50s and 60s, and today scorned for it’s unaturalness even within the environmental movement, despite being home to scores of unique species of birds.
  • Structural Integrity” – The story of how a New York City skyscraper almost fell over.
  • “The Shift” – dissecting baseball’s defensive strategy.