Attention to detail

From curved walls to floating chandelier, Clayton Center is modern marvel

Floating chandeliers such as this one in the Main Hall of the Clayton Center for the arts showcase some of the elegant features of the facility.

Floating chandeliers such as this one in the Main Hall of the Clayton Center for the arts showcase some of the elegant features of the facility.

This image of the Main Hall and the Nutt Stage taken from the balcony show that every seat gives a spectator a superb view of activity on stage.

This image of the Main Hall and the Nutt Stage taken from the balcony show that every seat gives a spectator a superb view of activity on stage.

The chandeliers that hang in the main hall appear to float and were designed to be both functional and artistic.

The chandeliers that hang in the main hall appear to float and were designed to be both functional and artistic.

Maryville College’s Clayton Center for the Arts gives new meaning to the expression “watch and learn.”

“It is a unique performing space,” says John Cherry, marketing director for the Clayton Center. It is also the hub for students and faculty specializing in performing and visual arts.

State-of-the-art rehearsal spaces, classrooms, art studios, galleries, meeting rooms and faculty offices rub shoulders with a variety of performance venues at the $47.3 million complex, located just inside the college’s main entrance off Lamar Alexander Parkway.

The 114,000-square-foot Main Hall and the 22,000-square-foot Recital Hall stand on opposite sides of a plaza that offers splendid views of downtown Maryville.

The Main Hall’s big attraction is the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre, which seats 1,196 -- more than Maryville College’s fall 2009 enrollment of 1,103. The building also features the Haslam Family Flex Theatre, a black-box theater that has no permanent stage or seating and can hold as many as 200 people.

The plaza itself can accommodate 500 guests for fresh-air events. And on the north side, the Recital Hall building houses the 252-seat Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall.

Priority is shared by the entities that helped fund the facility: the college and events sponsored by the cities of Maryville and Alcoa, including performances by local schools.

“High-school and middle-school performing-arts groups that performed either at the schools or at local churches have a whole new world for venue options,” says Cherry. “For school performing-arts groups, there’s a rental fee of zero dollars because the cities (Alcoa and Maryville) invested in the project.”

Center staff is charged with booking open dates on the calendar to generate revenue.

Planning for a civic arts center began in 1999 when Maryville College President Gerald Gibson and Vice President for College Advancement Mark Cate met with Blount County Chamber of Commerce President Fred Forster to discuss the concept. The college, Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County funded a feasibility study about four years later to see if such a facility was needed and could be sustained. The study’s results came back in the affirmative.

The next few years saw the formation of a citizens support group, and state and federal money was secured. When Blount County dropped out of the project, Maryville College increased its commitment.

The center has been built on the former site of the Wilson Chapel and Fine Arts Building. Those structures were razed and ground was broken for the new complex in 2007. Construction began in 2008, and Robert Hutchens was hired as the center’s executive director. The official name of the complex was announced at the 2009 topping-out ceremony. Clayton Center for the Arts was chosen in recognition of the Clayton Family Foundation’s support and Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton’s leadership on the project.

McCarty Holsaple McCarty of Knoxville was hired to do the design, with senior associate Paul Bielicki as project architect and senior associate Barbara Tallent as interior designer. The primary contractor was Messer Construction. Lawler-Wood served as project manager.

The Main Hall is an imposing red-brick structure whose three-story front windows face the plaza. The Grand Foyer is carpeted in shades of brown, red and green complemented by gold-colored walls. A water theme is evoked by bubble patterns on the carpet, a wave-like design in the second-floor gold-and-tan acoustic panels and the hand-blown glass orbs of 15 chandeliers. The chandeliers, along with two half chandeliers in the Nutt Theatre and sconces in the hallway at the back of the foyer, were created by glass artist Paul Clements of Lynchburg, Va., for Jefferson Lighting, based in Lynchburg.

“Each chandelier is its own work of art,” says Cherry. “No two orbs are the same.

“He hand-placed the orbs on individual strands of aircraft control cable.”

Clements made certain he had plenty of orbs.

“The order was for 1,700, but I made 1,950 to ensure that we would have enough,” he says. “I hired close to 15 glassblowers and used five different glass studios in the production. They were made in Massachusetts, where I learned to blow glass, and there is a large concentration of talented glass blowers.”

Clements experimented to get the orbs to look chunky and bubbly.

“The orbs may appear to be simple objects, but they are actually quite exacting, and the sheer quantity made them a challenge. It was nerve-wracking to drive them home pulling a trailer with over a thousand pounds of glass.”

In the center of the Grand Foyer, three wide, shallow steps made of pink brochelle marble rise to a landing, also in pink brochelle accented by a band of cedar tavernelle marble, from which two regal staircases ascend to the balcony level. The stone came from Tennessee Marble in Friendsville.

“It’s a good focal point for the entire room,” architect Bielicki says of the landing.

It would make an ideal platform for a wedding, for example.

“The main lobby can seat 250 for a plated meal,” points out Cherry, “and there’s a catering kitchen off the lobby.”

The Grand Foyer also features a box office, which is a Tickets Unlimited outlet, on the east side and two concessions stands. An art gallery and gift shop are on the west side.

Every attention to detail was paid in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater, especially in the area of acoustics. The walls are curved, “so they don’t get what’s called slap-back reflection,” says Bielicki, who has been on the project for four years. “While some have been massaged for visual effect, just to make it a little bit more graceful, every curve in there is done for an acoustic reason.”

Remote-controllable acoustic curtains on the walls also can be adjusted to help the sound. Performers enter the stage through sound and light locks, and doors to the auditorium have acoustic seals.

The stage itself “was a challenge,” Bielicki says. “It was a challenge conditioning the space, designing it, building it. It’s 4,000 square feet, 40 by 100. ... It is effectively an eight-story building with one floor.”

The stage has a sprung floor, which makes a better surface for dancers, and the removable orchestra shell has a flown roof that clips to the top of the shell. The rounded front area of the stage can be raised and lowered with the push of a button, allowing for a larger stage and more seating (it holds 77 removable seats) or an orchestra pit.

The theater features a technical stairway that runs from the bottom to the top of the building and allows tech support to work on catwalks at different levels without being seen by an audience.

The Nutt Theatre shares its state-of-the-art green room with the Haslam Family Flex Theatre, which has a soft floor and painted cinder-block walls.

In the hallways outside the theaters are lockers for performers and crew, dressing rooms enough for 56 performers, a scene shop, a makeup room, a costume workshop and a loading dock. The main floor also houses the Massey Family Rehearsal Hall for instrumental groups and a still-unnamed choral rehearsal hall.

On the east side, overlooking downtown Maryville, the second floor has the executive director’s suite and a special-events room, another rentable space in the complex. The second and third floors on the college side have the Fine Arts Department’s administrative and faculty offices and faculty lounge, a music computer lab, music library and nine practice rooms.

“All of the practice rooms ... are box-in-box construction,” Bielicki says. “The floor, walls and ceiling are not attached to any structure of the building; they float.”

The floor of each room sits on an acoustic pad about two inches thick, he explains. The walls attach to the pad and the ceiling to the walls. The technology was recommended by the project acoustician, Creative Acoustics of Westport, Ct. The practice rooms also feature doors with acoustic seals, walls that are skewed about seven degrees to avoid reverberation and acoustic curtains.

Bielicki says the most difficult aspect of designing the Main Hall was circulation.

“One of the ways it was described, it was a series of buildings that have all been incorporated into one building,” he says. “There are a lot of doors (281), but once you understand the basic layout, it’s easy to get around.”

Across the plaza the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall, with its sprung-floor stage and non-parallel walls designed to reduce perpetuating sound waves, is the gem of the smaller building. It features an acoustic reflector and a drop-down screen that will be used for lectures and films. It also will be home to the 1951 Holtkamp organ from Maryville College’s former Fine Arts Center.

In the lobby of the Lambert auditorium is a small cafe that will be operated by a contractor, Cherry says. To the right of the auditorium’s entrance is a brick wall framing a plaque saved from the old Fine Arts Center, honoring the memory of the infant daughter of a college alumnus and benefactor.

The Community Gallery and the adjacent Student Gallery are located off the lobby. Behind the stage are a green room, two changing rooms and two restrooms that can support 12 to 15 performers. The main floor also has several practice rooms.

Upstairs are art classes and studios, a smart classroom that’s fully wifi capable and a computer classroom for graphic design. The basement houses studios for photography, ceramics and printmaking, in addition to the organ blower.

The Clayton Center will offer a performance alternative not only for Blount County, but all around the region.

“Before, people had to drive to Knoxville, Chattanooga or Nashville” for many kinds of events, says Cherry. “We’ll have similar yet different opportunities to what you can see in Knoxville.”

He expects that touring groups will be excited about performing at the center.

With four singular performance spaces, the center should attract a variety of types of acts.

“We’re a unique draw,” says Cherry.

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