A reading club with a view to the future

484 Kurt Kohlstedt, Roman Mars: The 99% Invisible City

The book uncovers the fascinating and often overlooked aspects of urban design and architecture that shape the cities we inhabit, revealing the hidden stories behind the structures and spaces we encounter every day.



"The 99% Invisible City" takes readers on an exploration of the unseen and unnoticed elements that make up the fabric of our cities. From street signs and sewer systems to building facades and public spaces, the book unveils the hidden design choices and narratives that shape our urban environments. Through engaging storytelling and a mix of historical anecdotes and contemporary examples, authors Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars reveal the significance and impact of these "invisible" aspects of city design. The book invites readers to view their surroundings with a fresh perspective, encouraging a deeper understanding and appreciation of the hidden beauty and functionality of the built environment.


  1. Title: "The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design" Authors: Kurt Kohlstedt, Roman Mars 
  2. Publishing Year: 2020 
  3. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
  4. Length in Hours:10 hours and 48 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Shedding light on the often overlooked elements of urban design that influence our daily lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  2. Unveiling the stories and histories behind iconic landmarks and architectural marvels, providing a new lens through which to view these structures.
  3. Examining the role of public spaces and their impact on community, culture, and social interactions.
  4. Exploring the hidden systems and infrastructure that keep cities functioning, from transportation networks to waste management.
  5. Highlighting the power of design choices in shaping urban experiences and fostering a sense of identity, belonging, and well-being.

5 funny quotes

  1. "Did you know that there's a secret world of creatures living in the cracks of sidewalk pavement? Welcome to the urban safari!"
  2. "Who would have thought that the humble street curb could have such a fascinating history? Prepare to be amazed by the curbside chronicles."
  3. "Ever wondered why public restrooms are designed the way they are? It's a delicate dance between hygiene, privacy, and awkward encounters."
  4. "From guerilla gardening to hidden rooftop gardens, urban spaces can sprout unexpected pockets of nature amidst the concrete jungle."
  5. "Get ready to decode the secret language of graffiti and discover the vibrant art scene lurking in the city's hidden corners."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Behind every great city is an invisible city, filled with stories untold and designs unseen."
  2. "The invisible design choices in our cities shape our behavior, our relationships, and our daily experiences more than we realize."
  3. "Every street sign, park bench, and lamppost has a story to tell, if we take the time to listen."
  4. "The beauty of a city lies not only in its grand landmarks, but in the small details and hidden gems that reveal themselves to those who pay attention."
  5. "Cities are living organisms, constantly evolving and adapting to the needs and desires of their inhabitants. Understanding the invisible forces that shape them is the key to unlocking their true essence."

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing preservation and progress: How can cities honor their history and architectural heritage while adapting to the needs of a modern society?
  2. Navigating the tension between public and private spaces: How can urban design foster inclusivity, accessibility, and a sense of ownership among diverse communities?
  3. Addressing the trade-off between functionality and aesthetics in city design: How can cities balance the need for practical solutions with creating visually appealing and inspiring environments?
  4. Managing the environmental impact of urbanization: How can cities embrace sustainable design principles and mitigate the ecological footprint of their infrastructure and transportation systems?
  5. Fostering community engagement and participation in urban planning: How can cities involve residents in decision-making processes and empower them to shape the future of their neighborhoods?

5 examples

  1. "Learn the surprising design decisions behind the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, from its distinctive color to its seismic stability."
  2. "Delve into the intricate maze of New York City's subway system, uncovering the hidden symbols and signage that guide millions of commuters every day."
  3. "Discover the history and cultural significance of the London Underground's iconic roundel logo, a symbol of the city's transportation legacy."
  4. "Explore the hidden world of hidden passages and secret rooms in historic castles and palaces, from the Winchester Mystery House to the Palace of Versailles."
  5. "Unveil the stories behind the unique architectural styles and hidden symbolism of Washington, D.C.'s government buildings, from the Capitol to the White House."

Referenced books

  1. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs
  2. "Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan" by Rem Koolhaas
  3. "The Works: Anatomy of a City" by Kate Ascher
  4. "The Architecture of Happiness" by Alain de Botton
  5. "A Burglar's Guide to the City" by Geoff Manaugh

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"Get ready to decode the secret language of graffiti and discover the vibrant art scene lurking in the city's hidden corners.

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