Before 911 (or even household telephones), roughly 500 American cities relied on specialized call boxes tied into police and fire stations for everything from officer check-ins to emergency reports. In many places, these have been abandoned or adapted to new uses, but some still serve their centuries-old function in modern metropolises. Washington, D.C. got its first wrought-iron fire boxes back in the early 1800s. These were spread out on blocks across the city and tied by telegraph to firehouses. Inside, the turning of a key would send an alarm to the appropriate station. At the station, firefighters would match the signal to a map and deploy a response team. Original boxes still on the streets can be identified by their curved “harp” shape. 1800s map of police call boxes in D.C. (red for fire, blue for police) The city also later installed a series of police phone boxes. In the absence of two-way radio at the time, these were designed not to be used by citizens reporting crimes but by officers checking in. While making the rounds, they were expected to report back periodically from specific boxes to tell the station all was well in the area. Early call boxes […]
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.
Around the world, there is a lot of buzz around the idea of universal basic income (also known as “unconditional basic income” or UBI). It can take different forms or vary in the details, but in essence: UBI is the idea a government would pay all citizens, employed or not, a flat monthly sum to cover basic needs. This funding would come with no strings attached or special conditions, which would remove any potential stigma associated with receiving it. In short: it would be free money. UBI advocates argue that many jobs don’t pay enough to even make rent and buy groceries: people can work full-time and still be below the poverty line. It’s easy to understand why people on the left would advocate for a guaranteed income, but a version of this concept is also popular among libertarians, who see UBI as a way to shrink the welfare state. For example, you could take away food stamps, medicare, and housing subsidies, and replace all of it with this one flat sum. People in tech are also interested in the concept of basic income, and they feel a certain urgency about it due to increasing automation. In a world where […]
Urban worldbuilding is at the heart a lot of speculative fiction classics. But authors don’t develop the history, geography and ecology of their imaginary worlds in a vacuum. Often, their creations reflect present (or predicted) conditions right here on Earth. Space Fiction: Trantor as Ecumenopolis In the 1940s, science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced his readers to Trantor, a huge and densely-packed urban planet at the center of the galaxy. “All roads lead to Trantor, and that is where all stars end,” reads one of his passages. This spatial nexus featured prominently in two of his most famous series: Foundation and Galactic Empire. Foundation covers by Fred Gambino featuring Trantor One vision of this sprawling planetary metropolis is shown on a series of 1990s covers by artist Fred Gambino for Foundation, Foundation & Empire, and Second Foundation. In painting a cityscape across multiple books, Gambino hints at Trantor’s incredible density and scale. Spreading population nodes in Europe by Max Galka using data from NASA / SEDAC About 30% larger than Earth and covered in buildings, Trantor is what Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis would come to call an “ecumenopolis” (Greek for “world city”) in the 1960s. Fascinated with megacities both […]
On and off for the past 100 years, MGM’s lions (seven different ones over the decades) have come alive on the big screen, sometimes even roaring at audiences. These iconic opening sequences clearly stand out as shots of an actual animal. In other cases, though, the physicality of a filmed logo can be hard to decipher at a glance. Take the RTF television logo, for instance, which looks basically two-dimensional. But “television history buff Andrew Wiseman unearthed this amazing behind-the-scenes shot of the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française logo,” reports Christopher Jobson of Colossal. Back in the 1960s, explains Jobson, it “was constructed with an array of strings to provide the identity with a bright shimmer that couldn’t be accomplished with 2D drawings.” In short: a complex 3D shape was employed simply to create a compelling 2D logo. Many more well-known logos, like the letters of HBO floating in space from the early 1980s, were likewise made using physical objects. To the eye of a digital-age viewer, the logo part of the shot looks like some kind of rendering or animation. But a behind-the-scenes look shows how practical effects made this sleek flyby possible, with a chrome-plated brass logo and […]
Most official highway signs are clearly governmental, layout out speed limits, providing traffic instructions or giving directions and distances. Those huge blue interstate exit signs, though, familiar and useful as they may be, break that mold by featuring mainly commercial enterprises. So what does it take for a private for-profit business to get a coveted spot on one of these signs? And, in turn: what can these signs tell drivers about their options at a given exit? Detailed answers vary from state to state, but there is some overall consistency to the setup. Across the nation, specific service signs (aka interstate logo signs) help “weary travelers searching for gas, food, or lodging close to the highway,” explains David Tracy of Jalopnik. And “the signs aren’t solely there to help out motorists, as they also provide monetary benefit to businesses and, crucially, to the state.” Each mainline business panel is 48” wide by 36” high. The ramp and trailblazer business panels are 24” wide by 18” high. A maximum of 6 business panels can be displayed per sign. There are three primary types: mainline, ramp and trailblazer. These are mostly found on interstates but also some state and U.S. highways. Mainline […]