Founded in 2002 by Christopher Mercier, (fer) studio is a contemporary design practice based in Inglewood, California. Comprised of a talented and diverse team of design professionals, (fer) studio’s broad range of projects include urban design, civic, retail, hospitality and residential, among others. The firm’s approach to sustainable architecture is grounded in Christopher’s understanding of the construction field, having spent years as a foreman, a landscape designer and metal fabricator, here Christopher shares one of (fer) studio’s residential projects, a home saturated in natural light…
Project Name: Split Light House
Floor Area: 4500 sqft
Project Time Taken: 2 years
Completion of Project: December 2015
One of major design requests the client required was a home with lots of natural light. Due to the rectangular nature of the site and desire for a naturally lit interior, the house started to develop a linear split (continuous linear skylight) down the length of the home to allow for natural light to seep into the center portion of the house. This prompted rethinking the second floor layout which concluded in offsetting the circulation from the first floor to allow for a continuous two-story open space engaging both floors as single spatial conditions.
The split became a central organizational spine and a main feature to the project. It naturally tracks the suns east/west path throughout the day, providing an ever changing sequence of daylighting experiences throughout the house, as well as being the main circulation linking the interior program.
The north-side yard façade along the tree lined side street takes on a much more private character. The brick exterior transitions to a dark stained cedar siding that plays off the rich green pine needle color and the open glazed nature evident along the front façade closes up to reveal only very select small window opportunities.
Overall the façade’s exterior character and undulating architectural form is directly linked to the interior room organization in plan and section as well as each room’s particular view and natural lighting opportunities. Conditions such as scale, street orientation, existing landscape conditions, property context, solar orientation, etc., all imply formal direction to the façades. Together the interior and exterior conditions of the project formally drive the shape of the house.
Creation / planning process
Similar to all our projects, the design of the house evolved through an intensive on-going collaborative exchange of ideas and options with the client. Throughout the development of a string of both physical and computer generated working design models, from early block program massing, to exterior form and on to even larger scale interior space models, the client was intimately engaged in the process. As such, the overall layout, form and flow of the home has become a unique response to the client’s own lifestyle, dreams and desires, as well as a response to the specific site conditions and the larger local neighbourhood context in which it is now part of.
How it went?
The process went great and the clients were amazing to work with and I think we all learned from the experience which made it so much fun. I think every architectural design process is a unique experience. In general, the process is very similar from project to project where the building type is of a similar nature. What is unique each and every time and in many ways extremely important to being able to create great architecture, is the way that it (the process itself) gets moulded and reshaped by the personalities and characteristics of the individual clients themselves. What I mean by this is how they are engaged and how that engagement becomes a kind of ‘working space’ (to steal a line from Frank Stella) in which we are all working and playing. I feel this condition or experience is exactly what we are trying to capture within the making of the architecture. It is to find what is unique and profound about each client, their lifestyle, where they’re from, where they’re going, their ideas about life and try to bring that forth as the driving element that somehow shapes and forms a very particular architectural outcome. And when it works, it’s extremely satisfying I think for everyone involved in the process and it shines through in the final product as a great authentic piece of architecture.
Favorite room / part of the project and why?
Our favorite feature of the house is the internal split condition, created by the long linear central skylight. This space functions as a two story high street providing views between the first and 2nd floors and works as the central organizational spine for the architecture. As mentioned above, it provides a dramatic interior architectural experience, as it tracks the suns east/west path throughout the day, creating changing light tones, shadows and silhouettes along the walls. As the main interior circulation route linking the program of the house on both floors it allows for all of the rooms to branch off it and gives each room a direct connection to the exterior façade where it engages a small exterior room/court condition. This extends the usable and visual size of the rooms and allows for additional natural light and outdoor air to enter the house.
Any issues / problems you had to overcome during the project?
Again, the process went great and the clients were amazing to work with. That said I think we are all fooling ourselves if we say no issues came up on any project. Every project has a unique set of challenges and hurdles with everyone involved in some way or another. It’s just the nature of what architecture is and what it takes to design, develop, permit and build it. There are so many players involved in this process from city officials, to contractors to clients to architects to consultants to loan institutions to outside approval agencies, etc. The list can go on and on pending the size and location of a project. The trick with this is first and foremost just being upfront and aware with everyone on the team on what it is really going to take and secondly insuring (and demanding) that we are ALL going to work as team through the whole process. Like any voyage in life, there are going to be times of crisis and concern followed by times of celebration, it’s a process you have to buy into if you want to make architecture.
This particular project did have some unique concerns and challenges related to various conditions as the project moved through the various stages of design, permitting and construction. The client was extremely level headed and I think we all, (client, contractor, engineer and architect) worked together as a group and were able to confront and resolve conditions in a timely manner and really focus on moving the project forward in a positive direction. In the end I think the architecture speaks best to this outcome!