Earlier this year, a California city removed an unauthorized sign, presumably designed to help delivery drivers or partiers find “Bob’s House.” After noticing the sign, Rancho Santa Margarita officials took it down, brought it to city hall and offered to give it back to its maker. In short: they exhibited grace and humor about the whole thing, but the saga was short, especially compared to that of “Dude Chilling Park.” When an artist installed a convincingly crafted fake sign in Vancouver’s Guelph Park, locals were more amused than municipal authorities. The sign was (predictably) removed, but that wasn’t the end of its story. Installed in late 2012 by artist Viktor Briestensky, the marker was a light-hearted reference to “Reclining Figure” (below), itself a public art piece by Michael Dennis placed in the park two decades earlier. Following its removal (as “vandalism”), the sign’s story began to go viral. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel expressed his support for the intervention, and Google Maps changed the park’s name online to reflect its irreverent (if informal) new designation. Meanwhile, more serious news anchors and municipal authorities could be seen on television trying to keep a straight face while talking about “Dude Chilling Park.” A petition […]
Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible (99 Percent Invisible) is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars, KALW in San Francisco, and Radiotopia from PRX.
The Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early twentieth century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. Anyone anywhere in the country could order a copy for free, look through it, and then have anything their heart desired delivered directly to their doorstep. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. Today, those 1,400 pages provide us with a snapshot of American life in the first decade of the 20th century, from sheep-shearing machines and cream separators to telephones and China cabinets. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world — itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses. From 1908 to 1940, the Sears Modern Homes Program offered complete mail-order houses to the would-be homeowner — what would come to be called “kit homes.” Customers could select from dozens of different models in Sears Modern Homes Catalog, order blue-prints, send in a check, and a few weeks later everything they needed would arrive in a train car, it’s door secured with a small red wax seal […]
A few years back, I moved into a Sears building — no, not that famous skyscraper in Chicago, or one of those department stores in the suburbs, but a city block-sized brick behemoth just south of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formerly known as the “Sears, Roebuck and Company Mail-Order Warehouse and Retail Store,” it was a distribution center for an empire that revolutionized commerce in the 20th century. Today, it plays a new role in the post-industrial age, as do a series of similar-looking Sears “plants” in cities around the United States. Midtown Exchange in Minneapolis, Minnesota, west facade by McGhiever (CC BY-SA 4.0) Built along a train route in 1927, the Minneapolis structure served its corporate purpose for decades. It was abandoned in 1994. Growing up, I used to bike past it along overgrown rail tracks, sunk into a trench to bypass road traffic above. Then, the early 2000s, the 1.2 million-square-foot Art Deco building was reborn as the mixed-use Midtown Exchange. Its main-level Midtown Global Market features boutique shops and eateries. Above are floors of offices, apartments and condos. The Produce Exchange at the Midtown Global Market by Tony Webster (CC BY-SA 2.0) The winding commercial areas on the […]
As plastic bags grew popular in the 1980s, checkout clerks found themselves asking a new question that often divided urban and suburban shoppers: paper or plastic? City dwellers on foot tended to prefer plastic bags with their convenient handles, while suburbanites often opted for paper that would sit upright in the trunks of their cars. A few decades prior, stores and consumers had no real choice in the matter. Paper dominated supermarkets, and not just at the checkout counter. Meats, produce and other products were mostly wrapped in paper or boxed in cardboard. With the development of high-density polyethylene in the 1950s, however, plastics took off. In the early 1960s, Celloplast, a Swedish plastics company, patented a simple new design: plastic bags formed by cutting flat plastic “tubes” (essentially: thin, doubled-up sheets) then sealing them on one end. Left: original 1962 tube-cut bag patent; Right: additional 1965 patent with punch-out handles The result was a crude but effective bag, though it still lacked an easy method for carrying. One of its designers, Gustaf Thulin Sten, however, came up with a critical improvement that would help push broader adoption: punching out gaps to create handles near the unsealed end, creating the […]
A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America. The straw is officially part of the culture wars, and you might be thinking, “Gah, these contentious times we live in!” But the straw has always been dragged along by the currents of history, soaking up the era, shaping not its direction, but its texture. The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things—rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss. A McCountry meal from a McDonald’s Prague, image by BrokenSphere (CC BY-SA 3.0) You can learn a lot about this country, and the dilemmas of contemporary capitalism, by taking a straw-eyed view. Last Straws: Inventing the Modern “Drinking Tube” & Flexible “Bendy Straw” The post The First Straw appeared first on 99% Invisible. About the “99 Percent Invisible” Podcast