63. Roman Mars

The Accidental Architectural Savant

When fans meet Roman Mars, host of the cult-favorite podcast 99% Invisible about everyday design, "the overwhelming response is, 'I thought you were an architect,'" he says. "I fucking love that." Because he isn't: He's just a radio producer. But architecture has taught him a few things about storytelling:

BE OPTIMISTIC
Episodes portray how people and ideas are reflected in the structures around us all, such as a recent show on life inside the dense Kowloon Walled City, in Hong Kong. Mars's delivery often borders on giddy. "I don't think I'm a naturally optimistic person," he says, "but design makes me optimistic. It's like, Go, humans for trying!"

BE PERSUASIVE
"I feel this need to constantly convince people that what I'm talking about is interesting," he says. "If I can make people wonder, they can fill the rest in on their own." A recent episode did that by tying road design to the history of jaywalking--a foul promoted by car companies that wanted to clear streets for cars.

BE OBSERVANT
The show's name comes from the architect Buckminster Fuller, who once said, "99% of who you are is invisible." That's a guiding principle of Mars's storytelling--that even the most brilliant, prominent facade is hiding something deeper and more interesting. "You can see stories in everything," Mars says.

[Illustration by Denise Nestor]

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