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A frame built to defy a Category 5

Published June 5, 2007


As a mammoth steel structure takes shape along Brightwaters Boulevard in St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Times talked to the contractor and designer to get some answers.

What is it?

It's the welded steel frame of what will be a Category 5 hurricane-proof house. It's being constructed primarily from reused and recycled materials. More than 50 tons of steel and more than 300 cubic yards of concrete are going into the construction, along with Lexan windows that the builder says are 250 times harder than glass. When complete, it will be outfitted with solar panels and rainwater catches to be completely "green" and close to self-sustaining. It will also be virtually fireproof.

Who's building it?

Landscape architect Robert Tornello is the owner, and is also working as the contractor. He cuts steel himself and has done all of the material purchasing and hiring.

He is hiring only local, top-level union workers to do all the welding and pour the concrete to ensure the best possible quality work.

"Put your money where your mouth is, " Tornello said.

"If you believe in 'green' and you believe in America, you're obviously going to need some of the best workers out there."

Why go to such extremes?

Tornello said after seeing the destruction hurricanes had caused in South Florida and Louisiana, he wanted to build a house that would both protect his family from the elements and be left behind for future generations. He wanted to "think long-term and not short-term" and show people that building green is attainable. He also hopes that with the steps taken with the solar panels and water collection system, he will be able to run the house "off grid, " or with no outside utilities, for a week or more.

When will it be done, and what will it look like?

Tornello hopes that the house will be complete sometime this fall.

If so, it will have taken about a year to complete.

When it's done, it will look as much like a sculpture as it will a house.

The designer, Jovica Milic, said he designed the modernist house to mimic and interact with the landscaping that was already on site.

"When it all comes together, it will look like the house grew out of the landscaping, " Milic said.

How much will it cost?

Tornello wouldn't say what the project is going to cost him. He did say that by acting as his own contractor, he will be able to build the home for about what it would cost to hire a contractor and build a normal home of comparable size. Tornello is spending more on materials but also cutting out all the middlemen. "It's amazing how cost efficient things can be when you trim the fat, " he said.

Nick Johnson can be reached at or 893-8361.

By the numbers

House highlights

According to the designer Jovica Milic, when the house is complete, it will include:

4, 500 square feet

300 cubic yards of concrete

50 tons of steel

3 stories

4 bedrooms

5 bathrooms

[Last modified June 5, 2007, 00:16:35]

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