Surrounded by many theories for its striking look, the abandoned dome houses off Florida‘s coast garner tourists for decades. (The Weather Channel., 2021) It was originally six dome modules underlying stilts on the beach of Cape Romano and currently sits 300 feet away from the shore. (Hoffman, M., 2020) 

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Popularized for its sci-fi movies’ resemblance, Bob Lee, its owner, built the houses as a revolutionary beach home for his family. (Florida Smart., 2021) This 1980s home has a total of 2,400 sq. ft. with remarkable self-sustaining features. (Hoffman, M., 2020) Although this becomes uninhabitable today, Dome Homes remain timeless for its history, forward-thinking sustainable designs, and current look that envelopes a new function.

Lost in time: Dome Homes, Marco Island, Florida - Sheet1
Dome Homes in Cape Romano near Marco Island, 2019 _© H. Leo Kim, The News Press via Cape Romano dome home near Marco Island: What’s its fate? (naplesnews.com)

Design

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Self-sustaining features and functional designs encapsulate every part of the homes back in their time. With a total of 2,400 square feet, it used to be a house made of six interconnecting domes that were off the grid. Further than just aesthetics, his inventions of floor heating and automatic log reloader ran through the homes to provide for the cold nights. The gutter system of the house allows the rainwater to trickle down all the sides of the domes to the cistern to provide sufficient water for drinking, showering, and dishwashing. Solar panels generated power for the house, along with backup generators for cloudy days. (NBC2 News., 2021) 

The dome shape of the house also plays a crucial role in the overall design. Lee’s distaste of corners for its space wastage further led the structure to become hurricane-resistant by allowing the wind to roll just around the Dome Homes. This also functionally served to make the rainwater bounce off the domes, leading to the gutter surrounding the house. (NBC2 News., 2021) 

In addition, the corner less configuration contributed to a spacious interior by the floor to ceiling windows. Being built on pillars also provided a higher level of safety from storms and an unwinding shaded outdoor space for the family. These self-sufficient and eco-friendly features integrated into the property made the house ahead of its time. (Florida Smart., 2021)

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Lost in time: Dome Homes, Marco Island, Florida - Sheet2
Dome Homes’ facade when it was first built _©Cape Romano Facebook Page via The Sinking Domes of Florida | Florida Smart
Lost in time: Dome Homes, Marco Island, Florida - Sheet3
Dome Homes’ facade when it was first built _©Cape Romano Facebook Page via The Sinking Domes of Florida | Florida Smart

History

In his vision to build a vacation home for his family, Lee was brought to the scenic tropical paradise of Cape Romano, Florida. The dome-shaped houses were built in 1981 and were singular homes connected in origin, not a multitude of homes. To withstand erosions caused by the rising sea levels, it was erected out of pure concrete. 

After three years Lee and his family sold the homes but repossessed it in 1987 after their finances started dwindling. The house had become their primary home until Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. The hurricane blew out all the windows and the interior of the Dome Homes although the structure stood resilient. It forced them to leave the property two years later. (NBC2 News., 2021)

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In 2005, John Tosto acquired the property. He had the vision to renovate it and even gathered the permits to move the home away from the water. However, after a few months of purchasing the home, his plans were ruined by the category 5 storm Hurricane Wilma. It struck the domes and caused more damage. Until 2017 Tosto remained tenacious to renovate it but was not able to secure permits and was rather required to demolish the structure by the regulatory bodies as they deemed it unsafe. In 2009, the home was officially abandoned and an accumulated fine for not demolishing the structure amounted to $187,000. However, as the land where the dome sits has been turned over to the state, the substantial fines have not yet been identified by the country or the state. (Beeson, J., n.d.)

Lost in time: Dome Homes, Marco Island, Florida - Sheet4
Dome Homes sitting on the ground _©Cape Romano Dome House – Marco Island Florida • (britonthemove.com)
Lost in time: Dome Homes, Marco Island, Florida - Sheet5
Dome Homes sitting on the ground _©Cape Romano Dome House – Marco Island Florida • (britonthemove.com)

Current State

After several years of the houses’ abandonment, Tosto wanted to give the Dome Homes to the state and proposed to sink the domes and turn them into an artificial reef in 2016. This drew backlash from the public for they have been long-standing as a historic landmark, and the people did not want to turn it out of sight. The project solicited to raise money of $2.2 million but raised only $210 before it was deemed infeasible. After two years, Hurricane Irma hit and submerged two of its domes underwater. (Beeson, J., n.d.)

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The fate of the domes was handed over to the state of Florida in 2018. As debates arise around the domes and the decision is still yet to be made, the future of the domes remains unclear. With no clearer plans ahead of them, these now function as rich reefs for underwater life. It also welcomes tourists and serves as a prime spot for fishermen. However, the houses now sit 300 feet offshore due to erosion. Many believe that it is only a matter of time before another hurricane submerges the remaining structures of the Dome Homes in the water, eliminating the treasure forever. (Beeson, J., n.d.)

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Dome Homes today as fishermen’s prime spot _©Luke Franke/Naples Daily News via Fate of partly submerged dome home near Marco shifts, now up to state (marconews.com)
Dome Homes covered with graffiti _© Luke Franke/Naples Daily News via Fate of partly submerged dome home near Marco shifts, now up to state (marconews.com)

Lost in Time: Dome Homes

Dome Homes inhabit rich forward-thinking designs, a nostalgic history, and an uncertain fate today. Its domelike shape fused with functionality and sustainable features remarkably transcend time. The history of its abandonment evokes heartfelt emotions that made it a nostalgic place. 

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Currently, the houses function to serve marine life and tourists while facing the inevitable realities of deterioration and an unknown future. These may portray the homes to be lost in time as it crumbles to be gone, but its majestic architecture imprints an indelible mark that cannot be erased even for the ages to come.

References

The Weather Channel. 2021. Florida’s Dome Houses: Built to Withstand the Elements | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com. [online] Available at: <https://weather.com/safety/news/florida-dome-houses> [Accessed 30 September 2021].

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Hoffman, M. (2020). What Are the Dome Homes of Cape Romano? [online] WOW! Marco Island Jet Ski Tours & Rentals. Available at: https://marcoislandjetskitours1rentals.com/what-are-the-dome-homes-of-cape-romano/ [Accessed 30 September 2021].

Florida Smart. 2021. The Sinking Domes of Florida. [online] Available at: <https://www.floridasmart.com/articles/sinking-domes-florida> [Accessed 3 October 2021].

NBC2 News. 2021. Learn the history behind the world-famous Cape Romano Dome House. [online] Available at: <https://nbc-2.com/nbc-2-wbbh/2020/01/01/learn-the-history-behind-the-world-famous-cape-romano-dome-house/> [Accessed 30 September 2021].

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Move, B. on the (2019). Cape Romano Dome House – Marco Island Florida. [online] Brit on the Move TM. Available at: https://britonthemove.com/domehomes/.

Beeson, J. (n.d.). Fate of partly submerged dome home near Marco shifts, now up to state. [online] Marco Island Florida. Available at: https://www.marconews.com/story/money/business/local/2018/06/07/plans-infamous-cape-romano-domes-now-hands-state/622839002/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2021]. 

Author

Russel is an essayist, neuroscience enthusiast and architecture student who stands amazed by how the distinct disciplines interweave into a harmonious whole if understood correctly. She strives to harness what is in store of these into functional built environments inspired by narratives and informed by neuroscience.

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