An Italian inventor, Enrico Dini, chairman of the company Monolite UK Ltd, has developed a huge three-dimensional printer called D-Shape that can print entire buildings out of sand and an inorganic binder. The printer works by spraying a thin layer of sand followed by a layer of magnesium-based binder from hundreds of nozzles on its underside. The glue turns the sand to solid stone, which is built up layer by layer from the bottom up to form a sculpture, or a sandstone building.
The D-shape printer can create a building four times faster than it could be built by conventional means, and reduces the cost to half or less. There is little waste, which is better for the environment, and it can easily “print” curved structures that are difficult and expensive to build by other means. Dini is proving the technology by creating a nine cubic meter pavilion for a roundabout in the town of Pontedera.
The printer can be moved along horizontal beams and four vertical columns, and the printer head is raised by only 5-10 mm for each new layer. The printer is driven by a computer running CAD software and prints at a resolution of 25 dpi (dots per inch). The completed material resembles marble, is stronger than concrete, and does not need iron reinforcing. The printing process can successfully create internal curves, partitions, ducting, and hollow columns.
Dini also has lunar plans for the D-shape, and is in discussions with La Scuola Normale Superiore, Norman Foster (a UK architecture firm), and Alta Space, as part of the Aurora program run by the European Space Agency (ESA), to build a modified D-Shape that could use lunar regolith (moon dust) to build a moon base. Dini will carry out trials in a vacuum chamber at Alta Space’s facility in Pisa to ensure the process is possible in a low-atmosphere environment such as the moon.
Dini said his ultimate dream is to complete Guidi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which has been under construction since 1882 and which is not expected to be completed until 2026 at the earliest.
Another example of where we have seen the conundrum of architecture mating with mass-produced technology:
Early in Victor Hugo‘s novel of medieval Paris, Notre Dame de Paris, the antagonist, Claude Frollo, utters a terrifying line. He directs the eyes of two visitors from a book on his desk to the massive silhouette of Notre Dame cathedral beyond his door, Frollo then announces: “Ceci Tuera Cela” (This will kill that).
“That” is the cathedral, “this” is the machine that produced the book on his desk: the printing press. “Small things overcome great ones,” Frollo laments, “the book will kill the building.”
For Frollo — or, rather, Hugo — the history of architecture is the history of writing. Before the printing press, mankind communicated through architecture. From Stonehenge to the Parthenon, alphabets were inscribed in “books of stone.” Rows of stones were sentences, Hugo insists, while Greek columns were “hieroglyphs” pregnant with meaning.
The language of architecture climaxes in the Gothic cathedral. For centuries, Hugo asserts, priests had controlled society, and thus architecture: the squat lines of Romanesque cathedrals reflect this oppressive dogmatism. But, by the High Middle Ages, the Gothic cathedral liberates man’s spirit. Poets, in the guise of architects, gave flight to their thoughts and aspirations, in flying buttresses and towering spires.
In this (admittedly) potted history of the West, the cathedral, this Goliath, inevitably falls to the David of moveable type, the book. By 1832, the year he published his novel, Hugo believed architecture had reached an impasse: architects had nothing new to say. This artistic bankruptcy was revealed in the profusion of movements that toyed with earlier styles: neo-classicism, neo-Byzantine, neo-this, neo-that. Architecture was dead, but architects hadn’t yet heard the news.
Except for one: Henri Labrouste. Labrouste was still a young man building a reputation when he read Hugo. It was an epiphany — one embodied in Labrouste’s first great commission: the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. The library’s lines are sharp and free of ornamentation: it refuses the slightest of nods to past styles. It is a machine for reading in which function alone determines its shape. Labrouste drives home the point by engraving the names of dozens of great thinkers on the exterior walls. Ornamentation? Hardly: instead, it is an enormous card catalogue: on the other side, books by these very same authors were to be shelved.
How ironic that these writers, responsible for digging architecture’s grave, would be so honored by an architect. And perhaps it is even more ironic that the library lies in the shadow of the Pantheon, the French Republic’s Hall of Fame. Hugo detested this neo-classical pile: a “great sponge cake,” he called it. Yet in 1885, the great man was buried there. Perhaps we should just call it a machine for commemoration.
Similarly, see this, if you need new body parts, that is.