A Creative Call

From Frank Gehry to (fer) studio, L.A. architect Christopher Mercier is an urban renaissance man

Written by Jenn Thornton

Architect Christopher Mercier, AIA, wasn’t always the man with a master plan. As a teenager in his native Detroit, he wrestled with the future. A painter, Mercier leaned toward a career in the arts, but was pragmatic enough to consider the bigger picture while still in high school. “I thought, if I become an artist, there’s only so many things I can do, but if I become an architect, I can still do art.” At the intersection of profession and passion was Mercier’s métier.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Mercier went on to a progressive architecture program in Italy (under a then lesser-known architect Daniel Libeskind), a master’s degree at SCI-Arc and, in the most glaring endorsement of his talent, a spot at Gehry Partners, his place of employment for 10 years, until he departed the dream post in 2002 to establish his own architectural practice, with a modicum of trepidation at the time.

“I mean, it’s hard to leave that,” Mercier admits. “You’re working on these incredible projects, all over the world, and with great teams of people. It’s just a really hard thing to move away from.” When he did, Mercier met the full gravity of his decision. “I went from working on the biodiversity museum in Panama [Biomuseo] to literally designing bathrooms and closets,” he says, laughing. “It was humbling and crushing.” In those early but ultimately edifying days, even name-dropping

“Frank Gehry” into conversation didn’t prove particularly pivotal. “Most of my clients at the time didn’t know who he was,” says Mercier.

“I thought, what did I do? I’ve got to go back. But you learn quickly how to hustle, how to get work, how to make connections.” Today, Mercier’s gamble is L.A.’s gain. Informed by the principles Form, Environment, Research, his (fer) studio, located in an artist compound in Inglewood, is both full-service and fertile.

In conceptualizing modern spaces for creative clients, the studio’s architectural solutions are environmentally sensitive, heavily (but not solely) adaptive reuse, and across multiple sectors.

Its designed residences in communities such as Venice Beach, Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills; commercial projects including Smashbox Studios in Culver City, a lobby and reception area for Hana Financial in DTLA, and restaurants Father’s Office, Connie and Ted’s and Downtown newcomer, Officine Brera, a modern Italian restaurant set in a 1920’s industrial warehouse.

Also completed is The Hayden, a 30,000-square-foot creative office adaptive reuse project in the Hayden Tract of Culver City.

Currently in development is a new public plaza behind The Broad, a temporary space that will connect to Otium Restaurant; the new pedestrian bridge at 2nd/Hope Station that will link the stopover to The Broad by way of its plaza; and the large-scale Cedros Market, a 100,000-square-foot retail, restaurant and office solution space in Solana Beach meant to accommodate expected growth in transit ridership while maintaining the community’s character.

Given Mercier’s background as an artist, his engagement with creative spaces is a logical focus, as is being a vital part of the urban renewal in Inglewood. Among his involvements here are painting art murals with at-risk youth, one can be found at Roger’s Park. “We’ve made a lot of efforts to work with the city,” Mercier says. “You want to engage with the community as much as you can, and give back.”

With a full docket of projects, Mercier is giving plenty these days, including painting regularly in his art studio and playing hockey with former colleagues at Gehry Partners.

“It’s how you progress as an architect,” he says. “You’re always thinking about the next big thing.”

 

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