Architectures of Hiding

Ashley Mason

[Hidden Architecture]: Superstudio’s Fourteen Steps Towards the Paracontextual

It began with an empty box. Three copies of an unknown architectural project were printed, before the originals were reduced to ash. The copies, folded to A4, were sealed within layers of envelopes, then placed within the aluminium box, labelled ’SUPERSTUDIO / ‘HIDDEN ARCHITECTURE’ / 25.7.1970.’ This box was soldered shut. A witness account was made by an attending lawyer, confirming the events that had taken place—the fourteen steps taken towards an “architectural project which will remain hidden in hermetically sealed covers, for ever.”1

In the “Conceptual Architecture” issue of Design Quarterly (1970), the Italian radical architecture group Superstudio published a piece entitled “[Hidden Architecture].” Composed largely of a sequence of photographs, the piece documented their endeavour to create an architecture truly in hiding. From the sealed edges of the soldered box, we may be moved to think of thresholds (between inside and outside, between absent and present) and thereby of paratextual phenomena—that which, in literary theory, exists beside and beyond the main text. In this case, the main text can never be known, we are forever reliant on supplements—the sealed box, the signed statement, the label, the documentary photographs and publication in Design Quarterly. Nothing is original. Without the paratextual elements, this architecture of hiding would be entirely unknown: it is the remaining traces and marginal phenomena that offer us glimpses of an architecture that was carefully and intentionally hidden from view.

Architectural creation, representation, and interpretation are often seen as revelatory. In “[Hidden Architecture],” Superstudio unsettled this notion, illuminating architecture’s engagement with darkness and peripheralities. Concerned with societal and political issues, Superstudio sought to make evident the hidden in architectural production and discourse—the veiled agendas concealed within similarly insurmountable and unlocatable boxes. This paper seeks to draw upon the literary notion of paratext to explore the apparatuses and modes that Superstudio employed in their piece “[Hidden Architecture],” as well as to unveil the motives that lie behind this architecture of hiding and which led fourteen steps towards the paracontextual.

Keywords: paratext, threshold, subversion, Superstudio

1: Superstudio, “[Hidden Architecture],” Design Quarterly 78/79, Conceptual Architecture (1970), 54–58, 54.

DR. ASHLEY MASON is a Research Associate in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University, UK. Her research is engaged with creative-critical and textual-spatial practices within architecture. Her doctoral thesis in Architecture by Creative Practice (Newcastle University, awarded 2019) intertwined a constellation of precedents with her own creative-critical works to offer a paracontextual practice advocating for marginal, suppressed, and overlooked site matters within architectural history, theory, design and production. She is currently co-developing edited volumes in relation to creative practice and reproduction.