The Gordon Strong Automobile Objective was a proposed planetarium, restaurant, and scenic overlook designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. Wright developed the design in 1925 on commission from Chicago businessman Gordon Strong. A spiraling ramp featured centrally in Wright’s plan; this was his first use of a feature which would later gain fame as part of his Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Strong began to buy land on Sugarloaf Mountain as early as 1902, and between then and his retirement in 1935 he developed various plans for developing the mountain as a resort or recreation center. The “automobile objective” idea was one such plan, which Strong proposed to Wright in 1924. The “automobile objective” was primarily a day-trip destination; people would drive out to the mountain, perhaps picnic while enjoying the scenic views, and then return home.
Wright’s design went through various iterations, but the main feature was a ziggurat-like circular structure at the pinnacle of the mountain. The structure was wrapped in a spiraling ramp which cars would use to ascend and descend.
In developing the concept, Wright decided to include an auditorium inside the spiraling ramps, and move the tower to the side. Another notable element of this design was the specification of glass, or glass blocks in concrete armature, as the material for the ramp, which would let more natural light into the interior space.
Wright’s final and most complete plan for the site replaced the interior theatre with a larger domed open space that would be used as a planetarium. This was the plan that he presented to Strong in 1925. The size of the interior dome necessitated moving all parking outside, onto the ramp itself, and limited the space available for eateries and overnight bedrooms. Strong regarded the plan as unsuitable and rejected it, believing that it allocated space poorly and violated the integrity of the mountaintop.
The design is evidence of Wright’s desire to find a new form of architectural expression, a utopian scheme reliant on modern technology—in the case of this project, the automobile.