Roman Mars Describes Chicago As It Is

Roman Mars: These special episodes of 99% Invisible are brought to you by the Lexus GX and SiriusXM. The new Lexus GX shows how an off-roading overlanding vehicle can also be a true luxury vehicle. Every GX comes standard with SiriusXM, offering a rich array of music, sports, talk, and news. Huge thanks to the Lexus GX and SiriusXM for making this episode possible. Later, we’ll meet up with a special guest, SiriusXM host Rachel Steele, and experience the GX firsthand. So, stay tuned. To learn more about the GX, visit And with every purchase, you’ll get three months of SiriusXM free. The all-new Lexus GX. Live up to it. And now on with the show. It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a bag of popcorn… 

Joy: Car snacks… 

Roman Mars: It’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses. 

Joy: Hit it. 

Roman Mars: This is 99% invisible. I’m Roman Mars… in Chicago. A few years ago, at the start of the pandemic, I wrote an episode where I just simply talked about the design details in my house because I knew we were going to be inside for a while, and I thought it was important to find some joy and purpose in that. The episode is called Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are. You should check it out. It is a real time capsule and often cited as one of our best episodes. Well, since then, I wanted to record a companion episode of me, you know, free from my house, out in the world, narrating what I see the way that, you know, years of hosting 99% Invisible has trained me to see. So, over the next couple of months, we’re going into three cities that shaped who I am and how I think about design. These bonus episodes are made possible by the new 2024 Lexus GX and SiriusXM, who heard this idea and said, “We’re totally in. Just go make something cool.” And so, for me, the only place I could start was the city of Chicago. I took my longtime partner and new wife, Joy, so that I could have someone to tell stories to. Do you want to give your imitation of what it’s like to walk around with me? 

Joy: Sure. “Let me tell you about this roof. Let me tell you about this curb cut.”

Roman Mars: It’s a delight. I don’t know how I became Yogi Bear in your mind. Chicago is a design lover’s paradise. So much thought has gone into every little aspect of the city, starting with the street grid itself. So, in 1830, before Chicago even existed, the state of Illinois decided to lay out plots along the Chicago River to sell in order to help pay for the canal that was going to connect Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. So, surveyor James Thompson drew the first plat. That’s what it’s called. It’s called a “plat.” It kind of makes me giggle. “Plat.” And that plat was the foundation of how Chicago’s streets are laid out today. So, he drew straight streets, uniformly 66ft wide, which was actually the full length of a surveyor’s chain. So, he just kind of, like, made it as big as possible. 

Joy: Yeah. 

Roman Mars: And then alleys are 16ft wide, bisecting each block. And any building that was already there, that was already built, and that was in the way of his streets–they were forced to move to fit on the grid, which wasn’t that big of a deal in 1830 because only, like, 300 people lived in Chicago at the time or pre-Chicago at the time. In ten years, it would be ten times that in Chicago. That original plat was only a half a mile in area. But over two centuries, Chicago grew in exactly the way Thompson laid out that uniform regular spacing, and it eventually encompassed over 230mi². It’s as close as any city is to a true mathematical grid. The reason I’m telling you this right here on the corner of State and Madison is because this is the zero-zero point of that perfect grid. So, the zero-zero point was picked in 1901. And this is when the real power of the grid comes into full effect. And this is the Brennan plan. 

Joy: Tell me more. 

Roman Mars: Okay. So, Chicago had grown so much between 1830 and 1900. They were annexing all these sort of adjacent communities. And they were all kind of snapping into the grid, but the street names and addresses were all a big old mess because other towns had, you know, Chicago Avenue here and Madison here and Michigan here. And they’re all duplicated and messy. And the numbers were messy–just sort of, you know, chaotic. Okay, so a private citizen named Edward Brennan approached city council with a plan where the street numbers would locate properties relative to a central, x-axis–like an East-West axis–and a North-South y-axis. And the imaginary zero-zero center of the point being this intersection of Madison State. And we’re in the loop downtown. Okay. And once you understand this system, the address will tell you where you are relative to this point, like which side of the street you’re on. The streets even have those coordinates on the street signs themselves. So, like, Fullerton Street is an East-West street that when you’re there, you’re 2400 North of this point. It’s hard to explain. 

Joy: Yeah. 

Roman Mars: You have to kind of experience it. But just know that it works, and it is really cool. And once you get to know it, you’ll never be lost in Chicago. Okay. You know how much I love the Chicago flag, right? 

Joy: I do. It is a beautiful flag.

Roman Mars: It’s a beautiful flag. Do you remember what it looks like? 

Joy: Yeah. There are two fields of light blue. 

Roman Mars: The field is this sort of white field. 

Joy: White field. There are two blue stripes. 

Roman Mars: Yes. Horizontal stripes representing the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. 

Joy: And we have some red stars. 

Roman Mars: Yeah. How many? 

Joy: Four?

Roman Mars: Yes, four six-pointed red stars across the middle. And the four stars represent different pivotal moments in Chicago’s history. So, one of them is the founding of Fort Dearborn, which preceded Chicago. One of them is the Great Chicago Fire. One of them is the Columbian Exposition, which is the White City. And the last one is the Century of Progress exhibition. So, I think this flag is perfect and probably shouldn’t change. But I would consider adding one star for the Thompson plan that made the grid and one star for the Brennan plan. That’s how important I think it is. That’s how critical I think it is to, you know, what makes Chicago Chicago? It’s certainly more important than the Century of Progress exhibition. You know, it’s more flag worthy than that. You know what I’m saying? Anyway, Okay, so while we’re in this kind of area, we’re about a ten-minute walk from one of my favorite buildings. And you’re going to hear me say that a lot–that this is my favorite building. And every time I’m sincere. Okay, so let’s fast forward there. All right, so the name of the building is actually on the building. It’s the Monadnock Building, which is a great name. It was constructed in 1891. It’s 16 stories high. Okay. And so, I want you to… I’m not trying to quiz you, but I want you to tell me, like, what you see when you see this building. Like, what are some of its characteristics? 

Joy: Okay. Well, it’s massive but not in the same way–like super tall–like these other skyscrapers. 

Roman Mars: Yeah. It feels heavy. 

Joy: But yes, it feels heavy. Dense. 

Roman Mars: It is heavy. It’s very heavy. That was one of its problems. It was sinking for a while, and they had to shore it up. It was so heavy. What is it made out of? 

Joy: It’s just dark brown brick. 

Roman Mars: Yeah. So, that’s the first key thing to it. This is the tallest masonry skyscraper in the world. So, it is completely made of brick–at least, well, the north half of it is. And those bricks are the reason why it’s so heavy. So, if you could imagine, like, this thing was built the real old-fashioned way, like a pyramid–a brick on top of a brick on top of a brick. That’s why it’s so heavy. That’s why it’s really significant for being a very big masonry skyscraper. So, the other thing you notice–a consequence of this brick construction… You notice how it’s flared at the base and curves inward as it goes up? You know what I’m saying? 

Joy: Uh-huh. 

Roman Mars: If you look through the display window at the hat shop, you’ll see that the walls are super thick. Like, that’s not just a frame. That’s actually the wall. It has to be that thick. It’s about six feet wide at the base and about 18 inches wide at the top. And this is all because, you know, for it to have… Yeah, exactly. It’s bigger than your arms. And then a little tiny. And so, this is necessary because all the weight of the upper floors have to be held by the bricks at the bottom. And so, they have to be super wide to sort of support everything up above. And it makes it kind of like a pyramid. I mean, it’s obviously not as dramatic, and it only swings out a little bit. But if it wasn’t for steel frame construction, all buildings would be pyramids if they ever got tall enough because what you mostly see when you see bricks on the surface of buildings are not structural bricks. They’re like skin. There’s a steel frame, and they put bricks over it to make it look like a brick building. But it’s not made of bricks inside. So actually, the southern half of this building has some modern construction with some frames in it, but this part is completely masonry. And that’s why it is so weird. That kind of heaviness–you feel it. It’s kind of cool, but it’s because of the way it was built. It’s also, like, really dark brick.

Joy: Right. 

Roman Mars: It’s a choice. So, I want to get to two other buildings that are my favorite buildings. And they’re just north of the river, which is not too far from here. But on the way there, I want to check out the sign on the Chicago Theatre. On the marquee behind the middle “C” of the word “Chicago” is a Y-shaped symbol. You can kind of miss it, but it’s this Y-shaped symbol. And this is what’s called the municipal device of Chicago. It’s a simplified map of Chicago that shows the river splitting into the North and South branches–that’s where the Y comes from. Since 1917, this has been the official symbol of the city. And it’s been used on official buildings and on, you know, city vehicles and stuff like that. I notice it a lot on control boxes and, like, the gates of parks and stuff like that. You’ll see a Y there, and that means Chicago. It was used a lot in the beginning of the 20th century–less so later on. You wouldn’t see it as much as the City of Chicago flag around the city, but you’ll find Ys everywhere. And so, it’s kind of fun to do a little scavenger hunt for Y’s around. And so, we should do that while we’re here. You like a scavenger hunt.

Joy: I do love a good scavenger hunt. 

Roman Mars: Because life moves pretty fast. And if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. So, this gorgeous thing right here is the Wrigley Building. And it is so fancy. And it’s covered in white terracotta. It has that great silver sky bridge in the middle of this. I really love that thing, actually. And what I can’t get over when it comes to this thing is that this was all bought and paid for with chewing gum money. It was designed as the Wrigley Headquarters construction started in 1920. Wrigley was kind of late to the chewing gum game. He was this serial entrepreneur. So, he sold soap. And as a promotion, he would give away baking powder with the purchase of the soap. And then it turned out that the baking powder was more popular than the soap. So, he started selling the baking powder. And then as a promotion for the baking powder, he started giving away sticks of chewing gum instead of baking powder. And then he learned that the sticks of chewing gum were more popular than the baking powder. And so, he just started selling chewing gum from there. When he found chewing gum, though, he found his true calling. And it paid for this building. It paid for… Like, Wrigley Field is named after Wrigley. I just find that so kind of amazing–how much people spent on chewing gum in the turn of the century. 

Joy: I sure did. 

Roman Mars: Okay, so are you tired? Do you want to give up, or are you thirsty for more? 

Joy: I’m thirsty for more. 

Roman Mars: Okay, so then let’s turn over here and cross the street. This is one of my favorite buildings. This is the Tribune Tower. And when I lived here, it was home of the Chicago Tribune. Now it’s the private apartments. Actually, that was kind of a surprise to me when I was doing some research before. This building is a result of a design competition that was held in 1922. It’s this sort of neo-Gothic, vertical line skyscraper on the bottom. And it has this, like, Gothic, cathedral hat on its head. 

Joy: A lot going on there. 

Roman Mars: It even has, like, flying buttresses up there on the top. Kind of like a real cathedral, those buttresses would hold up the walls. But here they don’t do anything. They’re just there to look like cathedral buttresses. They’re kind of silly. They’re just decorative. It is this extremely weird monstrosity of a building. I don’t know. I kind of like it. 

Joy: Yeah, I like it, too.

Roman Mars: So, I mean, I kind of like it, but, like, its problem was that when this design competition was happening, modernism was just getting going, really. And skyscraper architecture was celebrating clean lines and simplicity. And then this design won the contest, and the sort of forward-thinking critics just hated it. But, you know, I think it’s all right; I think it’s interesting at least. Now, what’s really cool is the building that isn’t here. The second-place finisher of this design competition from the Chicago Tribune architecture contest was a design by Eliel Saarinen. And he was this Finnish architect, and he’s the father of Eero Saarinen, who became one of the most important architects of the 20th century. So, Eliel Saarinen’s Tribune Tower design won $20,000 as a second-place finisher. It was never built, but the design was shared with the public. And those critics who hated the winning design flipped for this tower–Saarinen’s tower. It was this soaring setback tower and had these strong vertical lines. It had a huge effect on 20th century architecture. It influenced a bunch of skyscrapers all over the country. And it’s probably the most important silver medalist ever next to Nancy Kerrigan or something. That was the first silver medalist I can think of. But Saarinen’s design was way more important than this building, even though this building got built. It has way more effect in the world. I find that really fascinating. But the best thing about this weird, goth building that actually got built is not the architecture itself, but the architecture embedded on the side of it, which we have to get up close to see. So, all along the first floor of the Tribune Tower, you’ll see these, like, little bits and bricks and fragments of other buildings from around the world. Like, it’s this little museum just on the street here. So, when Colonel McCormick was the publisher of the Tribune in the 1920s, he encouraged his foreign correspondents, I guess you could say, generously to collect artifacts from around the world–to steal them–and bring them back. He had a nice little collection. Some people, you know, sent them–whether it be demolitions or, you know, like, extensive rehabs of historical places–knowing that McCormick collected these. They would send them to him. So, some of them were probably gotten aboveboard, but I think they were mostly stolen. Okay. So, they had this collection. And so, when the building was finished in 1925, they embedded them in the facade with plaques indicating what they were called and their place of origin. And it’s been added to over the decades as well. So, if you walk around there, you can see pieces of really amazing sites. So, like…

Joy: Taj Mahal… The Alamo… The Great Pyramid? And the Great Wall of China up there. 

Roman Mars: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s one of the points that wasn’t taken with anyone’s knowledge. There’s the Berlin Wall here, too. And then around the corner here–this is the one that always sort of struck me–is that there’s even, like, a twisted piece of metal from the World Trade Center towers, which really kind of surprised me. And I find it notable and interesting. It’s sort of behind the scaffolding there. But it’s really different than all the other pieces. And most of the pieces are pieces of stone and cornices, and this is a piece of metal. Okay. So, this next thing isn’t specific to Chicago, so you can appreciate this whatever city you’re in. But it’s a very big feature, I think, in Chicago. And that’s all the revolving doors. Did you notice all the revolving doors?

Joy: I did. 

Roman Mars: Yeah. So, like, everything has a revolving door. The revolving door is really important to Chicago because of all the extreme weather. But they were introduced to America from Germany by Theophilus Van Kannel in the late 1800s. And he started this revolving door company. And it advertised the doors as: “They cannot be left open, blown open, or slammed. They’re always closed yet allowing the passage of persons. In other words, they’re always open, always closed,” which is a big deal in a city like Chicago with its extreme weather. So, every time a conventional swinging door is opened, the HVAC system has to compensate, and that wastes thousands of dollars of energy costs per year. So, there are lots of revolving doors here. But here’s the thing. I mean, how do you feel about using revolving doors? 

Joy: I find them difficult. 

Roman Mars: Yes. So, most people do. This is normal. 

Joy: Okay. I thought it was just me.

Roman Mars: No. So, for safety reasons, there’s always a conventional door beside revolving doors. And most people don’t really like revolving doors all that much because they feel claustrophobic–they feel weird. You know, it’s just one of those things. So, buildings use a lot of signage to kind of nudge people into using the revolving door. And at fancy buildings, the doorman will, like, start it swinging, you know?

Joy: Right. Give it a little nudge. 

Roman Mars: Exactly, so that you jump into it rather than– They don’t put a person usually on the swinging door. You have to do that one yourself. But if you follow the doorman’s suggestion, you’ll go through the revolving door. So revolving doors are really great. They’re there for a reason. And you should try to use them in terms of, like, energy usage if you can. But it’s totally normal if you feel like, “That’s uncomfortable.” The other way they try to make them better is as they got bigger, they’re kind of less claustrophobic. But older buildings–like a lot of them around here–are still little revolving doors which feel uncomfortable. So, I want to show you one thing that’s significant but maybe a little more abstract that points to why I think Chicago is this paragon of design. But I want to cross over here because there’s a lot of cops. There’s a lot of cops in Chicago, actually. And I’m unpopular with the Chicago Police Department. 

Joy: Why are you so unpopular with the Chicago Police Department? 

Roman Mars: So that building standing alone near Navy Pier– That’s Navy Pier, like, extending out into the lake. That building–that tall building–is Lake Point Tower. And if you notice, it is the only skyscraper east of Lake Shore Drive. 

Joy: It’s doing its own thing.

Roman Mars: It is. And Lake Shore Drive is this, like, big parkway that runs along Lake Michigan. There was already a city ordinance that limited construction east of Lake Shore Drive. But this building kind of snuck in through a loophole. Luckily, it’s a pretty nice building. So, it’s okay. That loophole was definitively closed in 1971 with the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which banned all commercial construction by the lake. When I lived here, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn made a list of all the best architectural features in Chicago. And he cited the Lakefront Ordinance as one of the top pieces of, quote unquote, “architecture in Chicago,” which was such a cool idea to me. The lakefront didn’t get cluttered up and cut off from the average person with this dense cluster of waterfront towers or docks. And that insight about what made Chicago so good kind of blew my mind. Like, it sort of made me think about cities in a totally different way. This place is known as the epicenter of skyscraper design for the 20th century. And the buildings, of course, have a lot to do with it. But I also think it’s kind of how the whole city works together that its key architectural strength–the space and the vistas and the vantage points–make observing and appreciating the architecture all the better. Like, New York has amazing buildings. I know you love New York. I’m not competing. There’s no competition between Chicago and New York. It has amazing buildings. But they’re all kind of crammed in on narrow streets. And I appreciate that density. It works really well for New York. But you could be walking along, and all of a sudden, the Chrysler building is in front of you, and I could miss it. You know what I mean? It’s kind of a strange thing, and it could really surprise you. But all these ordinances and, you know, conventions and respect for the whole somehow elevates Chicago. Like, the buildings talk to each other. A skyscraper from the 1990s will borrow and modify a motif from a neighboring building that was erected, like, 70 years before. The NBC building has buttresses on it because it’s right next to the Chicago Tribune. So, the Tribune Tower had a buttress at the top that did nothing. The NBC building has buttresses that actually do something, but they’re there because of the other buttresses. And having that space across a plaza–across the river–allows for that cross-generational conversation. And it’s just made possible because of the simple fact that we can see it all together. The architects really cared how everything looked and worked together. And that’s why Chicago, to me, is a city like no other. And things like the lakefront ordinance are a part of that. It’s like a respect for taking in the whole and having this cohesive city in terms of its architecture and design. So, this is like the exception that proves the rule–this building standing outside of the normal rules. But luckily again, it’s a pretty good-looking building, you know? 

Joy: Sounds like that deserves a star on the flag. 

Roman Mars: The lakefront ordinance does. 

Joy: Yeah.

Roman Mars: For sure. I think so, too. Okay. So, I want to go to our last stop. We’re already at our last stop. I want to take us to my favorite building. 

Joy: Your favorite building. 

Roman Mars: And it’s kind of the building that kind of started it all for me. But to get there, we have to go the Chicago way. 

Joy: What’s the Chicago way? 

Roman Mars: They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way… But in this specific case, I mean taking Chicago Avenue West to where it meets the North Branch of the river. And we’ll get there after the break. This special bonus episode of 99% Invisible is brought to you by the 2024 Lexus GX and SiriusXM. The Lexus GX is at the apex of high-end luxury and high-end utility. Even though you can totally imagine the GX sitting in a corporate parking lot, another passionate group found the GX and claimed it as this highly capable, reliable, modifiable, and luxurious off-road and overlanding vehicle. 

Eric Cavanaugh: People ask, “What is ‘overlanding’?” And you’ll ask ten people, and you’ll have ten different answers. 

Roman Mars: Well, I’ll give you my definition. It’s a fancy word for sleeping out in the boonies, in your car. 

Eric Cavanaugh: Getting off the grid and knowing that you have the capability to go off the grid. 

Roman Mars: That is Eric Cavanaugh from Lexus. We had a fun time geeking out about all the GX could do on all these different terrains, even though we were idling on a roof of a parking garage on Goose Island in the middle of Chicago. 

Eric Cavanaugh: One of the features that comes standard on the Overtrail model is Multi-Terrain Select. So, you’ll see here–this now unlocks a variety of different settings to help you navigate those terrains better. So, if you wanted to go through sand or you may find yourself in deep snow or dirt, the entire system is now going to recalculate and adjust the suspension acceleration brakes to make that the best experience. Now when you’re in Multi-Terrain Select, you then hit your panoramic view monitor, and you’re now seeing this bird’s eye view. This is called the Multi-Terrain Monitor. So, this is an additional view where you’re getting a really full, clear view of where you are or where you might be. If you’re overlanding on that trail, this may be a sign of a cliff, right? Or this is in front of you–this may be a tree stump right here. So, when I go out off-roading or overlanding, having visibility on your car is, like, the biggest thing you could ask for. 

Roman Mars: And to that end, I have to mention my favorite feature, which I think exemplifies the 2024 Lexus GX. It’s so simple. And in true 99PI fashion, it’s something that is not fancy and could be totally overlooked, but it tells you something about all the thought that went into the NX. And that is the shape of the front hood. One of the things that frustrates me about the big car that I have that fits all the kids that Joy mostly drives is I can’t judge where the end of the hood is. It kind of slopes down, and I end up thinking I’m way closer to whatever it is in front of me than I actually am. It’s absurd. I think I’m two feet away from a parked car, and I’m actually six feet away. But this new Lexus elegantly solves my problem. 

Eric Cavanaugh: The hood vents there? You see how they’re higher and the indentations at the top? That is designed so that when you’re off roading, you have a good reference of where the end of your vehicle is. 

Roman Mars: And paying attention to that need and solving for that function made the whole vehicle more striking. 

Eric Cavanaugh: That right there is part of the look. You can see it from the outside. That gives it that very kind of modular, aggressive stance. It’s not so rounded maybe where you might see in the current generation. 

Roman Mars: So, the design solves the problem that makes the GX more functional in more places. And that affects the look. And that look makes the GX stand out. It’s all about design, iteration, and an open, ongoing conversation between Lexus designers and engineers and this specific, passionate customer base asking for things that a group of people in the room–no matter how smart or well-intentioned they might be–could never anticipate on their own. That is the Lexus GX. But when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere, a capable, reliable vehicle isn’t the only thing you need. You need entertainment. You need company. You need companionship. And when there is no cell signal to be found and no F.M. radio towers for hundreds of miles, you can still turn on SiriusXM satellite radio and hear the voice of Rachel Steele. 

Rachel Steele: My name is Rachel Steele, and I am a DJ on two classic rock channels: Classic Vinyl Channel 26 and Classic Rewind Channel 25. Huge classic rock fan. Huge rock fan in general. 

Roman Mars: So, tell me, what is the difference between classic rewind and classic vinyl? 

Rachel Steele: So, we consider the classic rock time period to be from the early ’60s through the late ’80s. So Classic Vinyl–we cover the early ’60s through the early ’70s. And then we pick it up with the mid ’70s to the late ’80s on Classic Rewind. 

Roman Mars: Tell me, like, when you turn on Channel 25, what is the reward waiting for you? 

Rachel Steele: I think with Classic Vinyl and Classic Rewind both, you get the ability to reminisce, especially going back to those early days and hearing songs that you grew up with. It’s always comfort, I think. I always try to reach the listeners in a comfortable way. In the car, I feel like I am a companion. I think all deejays are a companion. And what we have in common is the music. So, I love to be able to share stories and bring these artists to life. And I think the car is the perfect opportunity to do that. You know, people kick back and relax–and especially in a car as beautiful as the Lexus GX. I would love to kick back and relax and listen to music in a vehicle like that. 

Roman Mars: To learn more about the GX visit And with every purchase, you’ll get three months of SiriusXM free. The all-new Lexus GX. Live up to it. And now me and Joy–back out on the street in Chicago. So, this is an office building in the old Montgomery Ward Complex. It was designed by Minoru Yamasaki. And I have to admit, when I lived here, I rarely looked up at this building. It’s a standard modern sort of cereal box with graph paper on it. It does have these notable, like, white concrete columns on the four corners. It makes it, you know, kind of a little more chunky. It’s still sleek but chunky. And I pass it every day on my way home from work–from WBEZ. I would walk past this over the river and then catch the Blue Line home to Logan Square. And part of the reason you can ignore it is there’s–Like you’ve seen–so many cool buildings in Chicago that it’s kind of hard to stand out as a skyscraper in Chicago. But, regardless, even with this sort of blue-green-tinted glass, it just didn’t grab me. And then I took the Chicago Architecture Center’s boat tour. And the docent told me why this building has those thick concrete corner supports. First, they open up the floor plan so you can make your office as open in areas you want because there’s no internal walls that need to be there. But most importantly to me, anyway, was that the Montgomery Ward Company prided itself on having this sort of egalitarian hierarchy. And they didn’t want executives fighting over who got a corner office. So, they designed a building without any possibility of a corner office at all. 

Joy: Cool. 

Roman Mars: It’s now been converted into luxury condos, and it’s simply known as the Montgomery. And I bet the developers, like, hate those thick columns with all their heart, wishing they could sell a corner condo that doesn’t exist. But that story makes me love this building. And so, I think it’s great. That story has stayed with me for years. And I’ve taken this Chicago Architecture Boat Tour now five or six times. We’re going to do it tomorrow. It’s really, really stunning. And because of that tour, I think of this as one of my favorite buildings. And keep in mind, this is a building I rarely even bothered to crane my neck to look at. I really did pass it daily. But I’ve learned to appreciate its aesthetics more as I’ve retold that story again and again. And it’s why I contend that story is the universal language of design, even more than aesthetics. Like, don’t get me wrong, I love pretty things. But sometimes prejudice and bias and ignorance and taste get in the way of me loving a brilliant structure with a great story to tell. And that revelation led to 99% Invisible. So, this building is in many ways why I do what I do today. 

Joy: I love that.

Roman Mars: Yeah. So, you haven’t spent a lot of time here in Chicago? 

Joy: I haven’t. I’ve only visited once before, and I haven’t really roamed around and explored. 

Roman Mars: It’s nice, isn’t it? 

Joy: I’m excited to see more. I’m excited about that boat tour. 

Roman Mars: Yes, the boat tour is the best. It really is. So, you’ll hear maybe some of these stories again. But it’s really worth it to be on the river looking at everything. Anyway… Well, thanks for joining me in Chicago. 

Joy: Thanks for taking me. 

Roman Mars: And thank you, everybody, for joining us in Chicago. Over and out. Thank you for joining us for this special Chicago episode of 99% Invisible, brought to you by the Lexus GX and SiriusXM. And thanks to Eric Cavanaugh, Rachel Steele, and Joy Yuson for being my special guests. The new Lexus GX showcases how aesthetic appeal compliments utility, proving luxury and capability can coexist. And when you throw SiriusXM in there, you have everything you need to be out in the farthest reaches while still being connected to a passionate community of music loving deejays, world-class talkers, comedians, and thinkers. To learn more about the GX and SiriusXM and Lexus vehicles, visit The all-new Lexus GX. Live up to it. Throughout the episode, maybe you noticed me saying a few non-sequiturs–maybe some stuff that didn’t make sense–but I’m hoping they made sense to at least some of you because I wasn’t just saying things. I was quoting things. There were five–yes–five Chicago movie quotes in this episode. If you think you can name all five movies, head to, go to this episode’s show page, and see how many you got right. While you’re there, you can look at me posing with a fancy car, and you can stream your first three months free of SiriusXM, where you can listen on the SiriusXM app, online, or on other compatible devices. You’ll get more than 165 channels of ad-free music, plus sports, news, comedy, and more. You can listen anywhere on the all new SiriusXM app. Go to to test your Chicago movie knowledge and subscribe to SiriusXM. 99% Invisible was reported and edited this week by me, Roman Mars, with production help from Isabel Angell and Sarah Baik. Mix and sound design by Dara Hirsch. Music by Swan Real. Special thanks this week to McGrath Lexus of Chicago. Kathy Tu is our executive producer. Delaney Hall is our senior editor. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Jayson De Leon, Vivian Le, Lasha Madan, Christopher Johnson, Martín Gonzalez, Joe Rosenberg, Gabriella Gladney, Kelly Prime, and Jeyca Maldonado-Medina. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. Our headquarters online is



Roman Mars


Roman Mars

Production help

Isabel Angell and Sarah Baik

Mix and sound design

Dara Hirsch

Executive Producer

Kathy Tu

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