CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For all the time and money it took to build the Clay Center, some people think the city missed an opportunity to make a bold architectural statement.
Instead of something like the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, Spain -- often cited as a hallmark of contemporary architecture -- Charleston got what a Gazette commentary, at the time of its opening, referred to as a Bundt cake.
The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, 20 years in the making, began a yearlong celebration of its 10th anniversary this past weekend.
The building certainly has its moments, especially during performance nights when it glows from within. But it almost seems like its designers ran out of energy when they got around to doing the exterior.
Newt Thomas, the retired engineer and business executive and the arts center's first board president, said board members didn't want a flashy Gehry-type building.
"There were eight people who sat on the committee for the outside," Thomas said. "We were concerned about it fitting in Charleston. The wow factor is the inside of the building."
Planning for the exterior dates back at least to 1996, when John McClaugherty told a reporter project leaders had narrowed down their choice of materials to brick, limestone or a combination of the two.
McClaugherty expected the domed roof of the planetarium would catch the eye of passers-by.
"We want that sphere to be the signature piece," he said. "When people talk about the arts and science center, we want them to think of a sphere."
Jim Straw, the lead architect, said the sphere was a good icon for the science museum. "But we are also an art museum and a performance hall."