Christopher L. Mercier, AIA, founded form, environment, research (fer) studio in early 2002, following nine years as a Senior Associate/Project Architect for Gehry Partners, LLP, formally Frank O. Gehry & Associates. Spanning his more than 20 plus year career, Chris has worked on many of the industry’s most respected international projects, including the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, the Condé Nast Cafeteria in New York, artist Richard Serra’s pedestrian bridge in London, and the Bio-Diversity Museum in Panama, among other architectural icons.
After earning his Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in architecture at Lawrence Tech University, Mercier moved to Milan, Italy, where joined Daniel Libeskind, the master plan architect selected to oversee the reconstruction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Following his assignment with Libeskind’s Architecture Intermundium, Christopher returned to the States to complete a graduate degree in architecture (M. Arch) at Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc).
Christopher founded (fer) studio to combine his perspective on modern contemporary architecture and Art with sustainability and design. Here The LuxPad explores one of Christopher’s projects; the renovation of a mid-century modern home for photographer and Smashbox founder, Davis Factor…
Project Name: Factor Residence
Floor Area: 6700 SF
Project Time Taken: 3 Years
Completion of Project: 2015
Creation / planning process
The project began as a series of site improvements around an existing single-story mid-century modern home near Mulholland Drive: a new carport, and a swimming pool, IPE wood deck & cabana in the rear yard with views of the San Fernando Valley below. The original 3,000 SF home, built in 1959, is of wood post & beam construction with frameless glass along the perimeter walls to take advantage of the valley views. Acknowledging the wood post & beam rhythm of the original house, the new carport and cabana were designed with exposed steel post and beam structural members. Additionally, a 500 SF gym was added to the master bedroom suite of the original house, with access to its own private outdoor patio area.
Just as construction began, the client seizing the opportunity to purchase the lot next door, more than doubled the size of his property which set the tone for an expanded design leaning towards a contemporary estate-type setting. Now at 1.5 acres, the expanded lot could accommodate a proposed 2,700 SF guest house addition, linked but separate from the original home. The addition was also designed with exposed steel posts & beams, infilled with glass & large glass sliders along the view side, and a solid privacy wall along the more public fronted driveway, which is faced with a decorative aluminium mesh. A single exposed concrete structural wall bisects the guest house, acting as a datum between public and private spaces… spacious living room & bar on one side, master suite on the other.
Concurrent with the design of the guest house addition, a separate landscape plan was developed for the natural upslope part of the property, incorporating a railroad tie exterior stairway that formally bisects the house where the new addition and original house meet. From there it continues to the top of the property and ends at wooden viewing platform. In addition, crushed granite meandering garden path zig zags back and forth across the path of the stair, bringing visitors to the gym on one side & driveway on the other. The driveway itself, more of an elongated entry court experience, is a combination of concrete pavers and permeable grasscrete, bounded on the sides by the guest house addition and various low landscape walls leading up to the carport.
The proposed project has been organized and designed in such a way as to preserve and celebrate the existing natural hillside incorporating drainage patterns from site and private street down to Scadlock Lane. Catch basins tied to new subsurface storm drain lines are meant to provide an effective means of collecting water, while the general & relatively unchanged permeability of the site such as the driveway area, allows for continued natural recapture. Large overhangs along the southwestern exposure shade the new addition from direct sun while the large expanses of glass invite the amazing views along with selected skylight locations provide for natural daylight harvesting. Materials, to a large extent, have been selected such that they can be sourced or fabricated locally (from the wood & steel structure, concrete, stucco, drywall, sheet metal, and millwork).
How it went?
The project was an amazing experience! We were fortunate enough to have a client who really understood the opportunity the site presented and once the additional adjacent lot was purchased, his ability to further encourage and challenge us to excel was like no other. The duration was challenging at times for the entire team, we literally had started construction with steel up and a pool hole dug when the project expansion idea took off. Re-designing and working with what had already gotten built and permitted and expanding those ideas was a both a great challenge and a welcomed guide as to where we should take the project. Being able to really envision the whole site including existing house, new addition and the large property that contained them was really exciting opportunity to see the project not just as a single family residence but as a sort of landscape urbanism type project. This led to the many site walking paths the engage the architecture at opportune locations and has led us to start to try to see all residential projects in boarder light.
Favorite room / part of the project and why?
Our favourite part of the project was really how through its unexpected expansion it really became a kind of environmental or landscape urbanism type of design project. A place where the experience of the landscape is integrally linked and connected to that of the architecture, yet at the same time they also provide completely separate experiences. You can escape into the interior of the house and find yourself in a completely private world, linked to the exterior yet private. You can venture out on to one of the various decks or patios and overlook the San Fernando Valley. Or you can wander up the hillside into the landscape and completely loose site of the house altogether. It is just these wonderful and varying types of experiences that this expanded project allowed to occur and which we love so much.
Any issues / problems you had to overcome during the project?
The biggest issue we all faced was staying in control of budget where the project site area almost doubled in size. With the purchase of the adjacent property and the expansion of the program it’s natural that the budget was expanded for the addition. What wasn’t evident and instead kind of really evolved more out of the design process was the clients desire to really design the whole property in terms of architectural hardscape and landscaping. Because of this, just due to the amount of land area alone, caused costs to quickly become escalated and required constant cost judgment checking on everyone’s part, including ourselves, the client, landscape architect, project manager and the general contractor. As a team we had to continually weigh decision relating to the extent of scope as design ideas expanded and compressed. An example of this is that at one point there was an entire open roofed wooded pavilion planned for the upper hillside as an over look structure to the property. In the end, as a way of controlling the costs this had to be reduced in scope to wonderful viewing platform which really achieved the same experience in much more minimalistic way, a design approach we took to heart as a way of getting at the essence of what was really needed on various occasions.