Typological Misfit

Andrew Kovacs

In the United States, the guard shack is a fairly common typology. Consisting of just a single room, these prefabricated, freestanding structure enclose a small space for security purposes (often commercial or institutional). 

Within its functional and formal typological variations, this singular box nonetheless usually sits discretely at the edge of a site. Most commonly, it is isolated within a field of parking— creating a figure-ground relationship in which the ground of the parking engulfs the figure of the guard shack itself.

If type is the result of the identification of common features, it is nonetheless possible for a typological instance to subvert the category as a whole. This is the case with a single guard shack in downtown Los Angeles, on the corner of Grand and Olympic.

This particular guard shack is a single object accompanied by a host of other, utilitarian objects. Composed and containing objects ranging in size from the actual shack to a teddy bear, from an umbrella to a street light, from a portable toilet (wrapped in a tarpaulin) to multiple forms of signage, several chairs, stools and a blue plastic garbage can. Integral to the composition is also a grey plastic garbage can, orange traffic cones, plastic bollards, a wooden storage crate as well as diverse and scattered materials — ostensibly waiting to be put to use.

Slightly elevated off the ground, the guard shack at Olympic and Grand is an anchoring device commanding and regulating the objects around it. Each of these functional objects is placed in close proximity to the shack, spiralling around and next to it.

The presence of all this dross around the shack, this gross accu-mulation of objects each with a specific purpose, reveals the obvious functional inadequacies of the guard shack as a type. This failure to accomplish its function adequately —the requirement of augmentation— means this guard shack can only be thought of as a typological misfit.

This typological misfit is much more nimble than the single (isolated) guard shack, and produces an alternate figure-ground reading. Instead of a static figure in a field of parking, the typological misfit becomes a dynamic, growing agglomeration of an ever increasing figure that continually encroaches on the ground of parking.

In its constantly growing state, the typological misfit can result in limitless compositional variations. Whereas the typical guard shack is bounded and hermetically and functionally contained, the typological misfit is prone to transformation. It is free to grow and expand with each utilitarian concern.

Such a slow motion mutation results in a micro-urban form of an incomplete quality that creates a break in the continuity of the urban fabric. The value of this conglomerate is not only in each individual object and their functional aspects but also in the direct relationship of each object to one another that produces a collage-like reading of an all-over composition.

As such, this typological misfit is a new whole where the conglomerate of objects is not based on a hierarchy of parts but rather each object has equivalent value due to their utilitarian needs.

Of course, this typological misfit is not designed by an architect. One may even argue that it is the product of everyday urbanism or makeshift innovation. However, the typological misfit bends the rules to fit its needs and offers a model for architecture to think alternatively about typology in general.

Image by Andrew Kovacs

“Typological Misfit” was originally published in Fulcrum 92 on May 5th 2014, and can be accessed here.

Andrew Kovacs, born in Chicago, Illinois, is an academic and architect in Los Angeles, California. He is a current faculty member at UCLA's AUD of the School of Arts and Architecture. Kovacs is the fabricator of the daily Archive of Affinities, a publication presenting the Architectural B-Side. He has worked for RE X in New York City, OMA/Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam and Atelier Bow-Wow in Tokyo. In 2011 Kovacs received a Howard Crosby Butler Traveling Fellowship in Architecture from Princeton University for his proposal A Tale of Two Masterplans to study the architecture and urbanism of the two major cities in Kazakhstan – Astana and Almaty. His written work on architecture and urbanism has been published in journals such as PIDGIN, PROJECT, and CLOG.