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Take a tour of billionaire's high-tech castle in Ozarks

8:47 AM, Sep 21, 2011   |    comments
Bob Linder / Springfield News-Leader
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By Scott Stump, TODAY.com contributor

As the monolithic structure began to rise on an isolated mountaintop in Missouri's Ozarks, the chatter grew: Who was building this cement castle?

"The first theory we heard was the movie star theory,'' the home's owner told TODAY. "After that, it escalated to aliens.''

The mega-mansion wasn't Brad and Angelina's new fortress of solitude, a military bunker or an extraterrestrial alien colony.

While Pitt did grow up in nearby Springfield, Mo., it turns out that the 72,000-square foot work-in-progress is the future home of software entrepreneur Steven Huff. Started nearly two years ago and slated to be completed by late 2013, the energy efficient, state-of-the-art, disaster-proof mansion made of concrete will be the fourth largest home in America, and certainly one of the most unique. While its owner is no longer a secret, the price tag is. Huff has not divulged the cost of the land or the final construction bill.

Huff recently took NBC's Kevin Tibbles for a tour of the mansion that he has dubbed "Pensmore,'' a name derived from the contraction from the French word for "thinking'' and the English word "more.''

The massive structure will require several thousand yards of concrete to build. The building materials include a concrete additive that contains tiny pieces of wire that will allow the structure to withstand everything from an F-5 tornado to a bomb blast. Tornadoes are certainly a concern, as Pensmore is in rural Christian County, Mo., not too far from Joplin, the town that was ravaged by a powerful tornado on May 22.

Huff liked the insulated concrete technology so much that he bought the company, Wisconsin-based TF Forming Systems, that produces it. He hopes to put the disaster-proof mix to use in building schools, hospitals, and other homes in the not-too-distant future.

One challenge of owning a home that will be bigger than the White House and Hearst Castle and just a bit smaller than Buckingham Palace is the cost of heating and cooling it. Huff has thought of that, too: Plastic tubes are containing liquid antifreeze powered by solar energy are embedded in the home's walls. They will alternately cool or heat the house without using any electricity.

The other challenge of building an enormous concrete home is aesthetic. When people think concrete, they think "ugly,'' Huff noted. So Huff and his builders are looking to remedy that concern by designing the exterior of the 13-bedroom, 14-bathroom home to resemble a French chateau.

The interior of the mansion will be decorated by Huff's daughter, Susan, who plans to avoid anything gaudy, if that's possible in a home where the great hall is the size of an airplane hangar with enough room for Huff's granddaughter to invite the entire town over for a playdate.

"We're rather down-to-earth,'' Susan said. "We're not swanky people. We just want a traditional look on the inside.''

Huff seems to have thought of everything, practically building a laboratory for energy efficiency and disaster-proofing while also making a concrete structure look swanky. Anything he missed out on, besides a guestroom for Brad and Angelina?

"If I knew that, I wouldn't have forgotten it,'' Huff said before laughing.

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