This episode is a collaboration with The Stoop, a podcast hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba, which features stories from across the black diaspora. Oprah Winfrey’s hair is an amazing and ever-changing object of design. She’s worn dozens of styles over the years, including weaves and braids. She’s also a natural, meaning she doesn’t use chemical relaxers to straighten her hair. Oprah gives most of the credit for her great hair to one person: Andre Walker. He’s been her stylist for decades. Walker first met Oprah back in the 1980s. He then traveled the globe with her as she became one of most important media figures in the world. Along the way, he’s redone her hair in endless ways. But beyond Oprah’s hair, Walker is known for something else: a system that he created back in the 1990s to market his line of hair care products. The system categorizes natural hair types, and it’s often referred to simply as “the hair chart.” The chart identifies four hair types and within each of those categories there are different sub-types. The chart spans straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair. For Walker, the chart was all about selling his products. People could […]
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.
For nearly a century, a vast system of underground pipes run by the London Hydraulic Power Company pumped water to power hotels, shops, offices, mansion blocks, hotels, docks, factories and more. Hydraulics lifted elevators at the Bank of England, opened gates along the Thames and even provided backup power for the Tower Bridge. Water pressure lifted curtains at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and rotated stages at the London Palladium in the West End, in addition to raising and lower organs and orchestra platforms at other venues. It also doubled as a fire safety system in buildings it served. The water was pumped from the Thames (and heated in winter) and pressure was maintained at around 800 pounds per square inch by five hydraulic power stations. Short-term pressure storage was provided by hydraulic accumulators, which were large vertical pistons loaded with heavy weights. An accumulator essentially stores energy and enables a hydraulic system to cope with changes in demand. Hydraulic accumulator, crane, and telescopic lift diagrams Within a decade, London’s system was pumping 6,500,000 gallons a week, and by the 1930s the volume had grown to 32,000,000. At its peak, the network had over 180 miles of pipe snaking under […]
On the University of Pennsylvania Campus, the Library of Fine Arts is a richly ornate and eclectic structure belonging to the School of Design. Completed in 1890, it is currently designated a National Historic Landmark. But in the late 1950s and early 60s, there was serious discussion of tearing it down altogether. Denise Scott Brown, then a new faculty member at Penn, was very much against the demolition proposal. In the early ’60s, architects were very into tearing down old frilly buildings, and replacing them new, sleek modernist buildings. The dean wanted the historic library gone — “it was what a Modernist would do, you see,” said Denise Scott Brown. Denise herself wasn’t opposed to Modernism — she liked the look of sleek glass and steel buildings themselves. The thing is, she was getting tired of paternalistic modernist ideology. Many modernists thought they knew better than other people did how a building (or city) should function. They were building for people, without asking people what they wanted. So, in 1960, in her first faculty meeting at Penn, Denise took a stand against the dean. After a long argument, she convinced the rest of the faculty that the building should be […]
People often associate the Acme Corporation with vintage Road Runner (and other Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies) cartoons in which wild failure-prone products are used to comedic effect — things like jet-propelled unicycles, invisible paint, instant roads and giant rubber bands, But in reality, the “Acme” name can be traced to actual brands. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, “Acme,” from a Greek word for “peak, zenith or prime,” became a popular word in business titles. The cartoon association with bad products was intentionally ironic. For real businesses, Acme conferred certain advantages when used at the beginning of a name. High placement in alphabetical Yellow Pages listings helped lead to the formation of companies like Acme Boots, Acme Brick, Acme Markets and others along similar lines. And as Warner Brothers was making its now-classic shows, there was even an Acme Traffic Signal Company making traffic lights in Los Angeles. A common misconception holds that Acme is an acronym standing for something like “A Company that Makes Everything”, “American Companies Make Everything” or “American Company that Manufactures Everything.” To put it in perspective: at the time Acme began to gain traction (both in the real world and cartoons), using and […]
“An iconic ‘Kangaroo Crossing’ sign in Columbus was removed by the city this morning,” wrote WOSU reporter Gabe Rosenberg, “and it’s all my fault.” But if Clintonville residents get their way, the story of the sign is far from over. Solidarity signs and stickers have begun popping up in windows and on lawns within and beyond this Ohio neighborhood — there is also an online petition and a crowdfunding campaign to get the sign reinstalled. Perhaps the strangest part of the saga is that no one seems to have actually wanted the sign removed. Its existence was long known to police officers and city officials, and it was beloved by residents. Everyone Rosenberg spoke to expressly approve of its presence. Former location of “kangaroo crossing” sign in Clintonville, Columbus, Ohio The Columbus Department of Public Service, though, regulates and maintains traffic signage, typically issuing permits and installing animal-crossing signs based on accidents related to a given species. Naturally, they could find no reports of such incidents related to kangaroos. So when WOSU reporters began to inquire about its origins, the city took it as a complaint, and workers were sent to take the sign down. Different theories have been floated […]