Print Houses

The Man Who Prints Houses

To colonize the moon or the desert, printing houses with the sand found on site is not the dream of a madman but as concrete as the cement produced by the 3D printer invented by Enrico Dini, the D-Shape (translation from Che Futuro). As the first person to build a working 3D printer large enough to print buildings - infact the largest 3D printer in the world - Dini has became known as “The Man Who Prints Houses’ (the title of a documentary following Dini’s work in 2010).

Born in 1962, Enrico Dini grew up in Pontedera, a town in Tuscany, between Pisa and Florence. Despite a desire to study biology, with a father as head of the computer department of the famous scooter manufacturer Piaggio, he had little choice but to follow in his footsteps, completing an engineering course in civil technology. He became a consultant in the field of robotics, initially in the footwear industry.

As a robotics specialist, Dini began tinkering with 3D printing in his spare time, an obsession that would eventually ruined his marriage. In 2004, whilst presenting his work in front of a group of Piaggio designers, Dini made the joke “with this technique - we can print houses”. But far from a joke, it is what has driven him in his research and through the many problems of turning his work into a business. In 2005 he succeeded in printing a small column of stone and soon after, using D-Shape, the very first layer-by-layer architectural structure in the world: the Radiolaria, designed by Andrea Morgante.

Following this he is approached from all corners of the architectural world, for lectures, brainstorming and projects, including Foster + Partners of London. Interested in the technology of D-Shape, they are collaborating with Dini on the Moon Project, work funded by the European Space Agency to print buildings on the moon using the material found on the face of the moon, rather than transporting them direct from Earth: an idea that could materialize by 2020.

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In 2012, Dini created the Moebius House, designed by the Dutch architect ir. Janjaap Ruijssenaars. In the same year Dini also printed artificial lifelike coral reefs from sand (houses for fish), abandoning the idea of making houses “printed in one piece” in favor of the structure and forms of the natural landscape, a philosophy he calls arch-nature.

But how does it work?

The process begins with the architect designing his project using CAD 3D Computer technology. The Computer design obtained is downloaded into a STL file and is imported into the Computer program that controls D-Shape’s printer head. The process takes place in a non-stop work session, starting from the foundation level and ending on the top of the roof, including stairs, external and internal partition walls, concave and convex surfaces, bas-reliefs, columns, statues, wiring, cabling and piping cavities.

During the printing of each section a ‘structural ink’ is deposited by the printer’s nozzles on the sand. The printer works by meshing together sand and other material with a binding agent to create a kind of sandstone. The solidification process takes 24 hours to complete. The printing starts from the bottom of the construction and rises up in sections of 5-10mm, handling objects as big as six metres cubed. Upon contact the solidification process starts and a new layer is added.

Effectively, the new process returns any type of sand, dust or gravel back to its original compact stone state. The binder transforms any kind of sand into a marble-like material (i.e. a mineral with microcrystalline characteristics) and with a resistance and traction much superior to Portland Cement, so much so that there is no need to use iron to reinforce the structure. This artificial marble is indistinguishable from real marble and chemically it is one hundred percent environmentally friendly. Despite the higher cost of the binder compared to Portland cement, the realization costs of D-Shape structures are 30%-50% lower than manual methods.

Dini wants to simplify D-Shape to create an affordable tool that anyone can operate: “My dream is to go to Africa, to countries where there is war, remove the weapons out of the hands of child soldiers and replace them with a basket. They can use the basket to collect sand and bring it to a 3D printer. This printer then builds small houses, irrigation canals, or parts for shading. Things that improve life for the people there.” An admirable dream.

More information about D-Shape: http://www.d-shape.com - Photo Credits: Monolite UK Ltd

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