Gehry protégé on setting up shop in Inglewood before it was cool

Christopher Mercier of (fer) studio talks neighborhood plans

Feb.February 03, 2017 02:01 PM
Christopher Mercier (via (fer) studio)

Working for Frank Gehry is many an architects’ dream. It was a reality for L.A.’s Christopher Mercier for 15 years of his career. 

“It was very hard to leave,” said Mercier, who now lives and works in Inglewood. “It was quite humbling when I finally did. I was working in Bilbao and Panama, and the next thing I did was kitchens and garages in L.A..”

Mercier struck out on his own in 2002, creating (fer) studio with Douglas Pierson, who has since left the partnership, leaving Mercier as the sole principal. The firm set up its headquarters in Inglewood long before the buzz of the Los Angeles Rams stadium came into play, leading to an uptick in development and investment in the area. It worked closely with the city of Inglewood on a live/work ordinance that was passed in 2015. 

Mercier’s 14-architect firm is largely Southern California minded — a long way away from his Gehry projects in places like New York and Spain, as well as from his stint with starchitect Daniel Libeskind in Milan, Italy.

His firm focuses on designing commercial, residential and hospitality projects in Los Angeles, including the renovation of an old Beverly Hills Best Western to create the Sixty Hotel; the corporate financial headquarters of Hana Financial and Officine Brer, both in Downtown L.A.; and the Esprit luxury residential complex in Marina del Rey. His firm recently designed the JB Residence in Venice, which is under construction and slated for completion in March 2017.

The architect has now come full circle. Mercier and Gehry are back to collaborating on some commercial and residential properties, such as a floating beach house in Marina del Rey.

The attention to detail he learned from Gehry led Mercier to exciting work within his own neighborhood and around LA. We chatted with the architect about long-overlooked Inglewood.

When were you were ready to take a gamble on Inglewood?

We began working on the live/work proposal in 2005. We started on theoretical projects back in 2009. Dorn was the mayor then, and he got really excited by our plans. At one point, we were ready to do a transit-oriented masterplan project. But the political switch [when Dorn resigned in 2010] slowed things.

So you were trying to get things going in Inglewood before the stadium news hit?

We were the only ones who jumped out front and looked into it all. Since then, it lead to other people getting involved. But we saw [the potential] and believed in Inglewood before the city did.

Do you live in Inglewood?

Yes, I am a both resident of Inglewood and have my business here. I moved myself into a warehouse next to the office. I see Inglewood as a lot like Culver City 20 years ago, and I kept thinking, ‘What would it take to get it there?” Getting a Metro station to land right downtown is ideal for urban development.

Has the sentiment about living near an airport changed as Inglewood develops?

It really comes down to how hard it is to buy in L.A. for under $600,000. That’s the struggle. As the more desirable areas are taken, that leaves what is available for a decent price, and that means near the airport. Where there is low cost real estate in L.A. is where people go. Inglewood is great — there are parts that are really great. People forget that Santa Monica has flight pass as well, so there are parts that are good and bad. Prairie Avenue abuts the stadium and will explode as more things come in.

What are you working on in Inglewood?

We helped with Three Weavers Brewery, which kind of exploded once they came to Inglewood. We’re looking to do other local projects, like a restaurant. I did some public mural work at Rogers Park in Inglewood. We are working with a bunch of youth in the park, which is a great project. We are trying to do more in Inglewood.  We are doing more in the rest of L.A.

What projects are you working on in L.A.?

The Broad museum. We are doing a new plaza behind it. It’s on top of the existing parking structure. We are developing a public open plaza that all these surrounding entities will work with, a continuation of an existing plaza there. We are adding a metro bridge to connect it to a [regional connector] that will open there in 2020. We have a residence in Fullerton fully under construction and nearly done. Outside of L.A., we are competing in South Korea as an arts collective with an amphitheater and workshop, where you can look at art and engage with it.

Is Inglewood’s history being incorporated into the development there? 

When we started playing with plans, we discovered it had an octagon shape. It’s talked about but I can’t find images of it. We would love to bring back and make evident some of that octagonal funny street layout. I do wish Inglewood would celebrate more of its great history and we try to do that with our work. 

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