British Airship R 101

Airships and the Future that Never Was

They are hulking, but graceful — human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the public imagination. In these visions, cargo and passengers traverse the globe in smoothly gliding aircraft, then dock elegantly at the mooring towers on top of Art Deco skyscrapers.

Today, blimps are mostly just PR gimmicks, but for 100 years, lighter-than-air crafts were seriously considered as the perfect design solution for all kinds of problems, at least in theory. And despite setbacks and failures, people just wouldn’t give up on the promise of airships.

The most promising, and most opulent, rigid airship of the 1920s era was Britain’s R101 and its rise and dramatic fall is the primary subject of engineering expert Bill Hammack’s new book about Britain’s last great airship, called Fatal Flight. In this podcast he evokes futures that might have been.

99% Invisible

 

Guano Mania

In 2014, President Obama closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining, and expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time.
The preserve is nowhere near the mainland United States nor is it all in close range to Hawaii. Still, President Obama was able to protect this piece of ocean in the name of the United States.
To understand how the U.S. has jurisdiction over these waters in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, one has to look back to the 19th Century when, for a brief period, the U.S. scoured the oceans looking for rock islands covered in guano. That is: seabird poop.

99% Invisible | 6th December 2016

Ponte City Tower

Ponte City Tower, the brutalist cylindrical high-rise that towers over Johannesburg, has gone from a symbol of white opulence to something far more complex. It’s gone through very tough times, but also it’s hopeful. It’s a microcosm of the South Africa’s history, but it’s also a place that moves on. And to this day, this strange concrete tube at the center of Johannesburg’s skyline continues to play the same role for newcomers that it has for decades: serving as the diverse entry point to the city.

99% Invisible

Squatters of the Lower East Side

In the 1960s and 70s New York City was going through an economic downturn and many people with means moved to the suburbs. By the 1980s there were empty buildings everywhere throughout the Lower East Side that squatters eventually took over. They set about fixing up their decrepit buildings, clearing rubble, building stairs, reinforcing walls, and replacing windows. These squatters would resist eviction by the city for almost two decades and in 2002 they finally achieved legalization and were allowed to stay.

99% Invisible

Usonia 1 – Budget Housing Proposition by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was a bombastic character that ultimately changed the field of architecture, and not just through his big, famous buildings. Before designing many of his most well-known works, Wright created a small and inexpensive yet beautiful house. This modest home would go on to shape the way working- and middle-class Americans live to this day. And it all started with a journalist from Milwaukee.

99% Invisible | 7th February 2017

Longbox

longboxIn 1990, a Federal district judge in South Florida ruled that the rap group 2 Live Crew’s album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was so obscene that it couldn’t be sold or performed within his jurisdiction in South Florida. Three days after the ruling, 2 Live Crew played a show in a county within his jurisdiction, and afterwards two members of the group got arrested.

When Jeff Ayeroff, an executive at Virgin Records, watched this all play out on TV, he felt offended. Not by the raunchy lyrics or the twerking on stage, but by the arrests and the blatant censorship of the artists’ work. Shortly thereafter, he got the idea for “Rock the Vote.”

The idea behind Rock the Vote was simple: get young people to vote for politicians who wouldn’t censor music. Ayeroff got about sixty people together in a Los Angeles hotel to talk about launching Rock The Vote. Frank Zappa was there, past and present California Governor Jerry Brown was there, as well as a bunch of record executives.

Illustration: Front of R.E.M.’s Out of Time

99% Invisible | 27th September 2016

On Average

on-average-2In many ways, the built world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones – all these measurements are based around the concept of an “average.”
Todd Rose wants us to re-examine our concept of the average and find new ways to accommodate all the people who aren’t average, which, it turns out, is everyone.

99% Invisible | 24th August 2016