3-D Printing Whole Buildings in Stone...in Space: This Printer Rocks

Enrico Dini's brilliant-or-crazy (or both) prototype machine prints entire buildings in solid rock... On the MOON!

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In Pisa, Italy, mad genius Enrico Dini is building sandcastles on the moon. His giant 3-D printer is the first of its kind with the potential to print whole buildings, and it makes them out of solid rock, cutting down a thousand-year-long process into a few minutes. It uses sand, but someday it'll use moon dust.

The machine, called D-Shape, sprays a thin layer of sand with a magnesium-based glue from hundreds of nozzles—its resolution is about 25 dpi, not bad for printing on this scale. The glue binds the sand into solid rock, which builds up, layer after layer, into a sculpture, or a piece of furniture or, someday, into a cathedral. "What I really want to do is to use the machine to complete the Sagrada Familia," Dini says. Okay, it seems a little crazy, but not much.

Dini claims the d-shape process is four times faster than conventional building, costs a third to a half as much as using Portland cement, creates little waste and is better for the environment. But its chief selling point may simply be that it makes creating Gaudiesque, curvy structures simple.

It's not enough for D-Shape to be the missing link between the tiny 3-D printers of today, which never really caught on beyond gimmicky jewelry and model-making, and bigger printers capable of making full-size structures. No, Dini wants the moon. As part of the European Space Agency's Aurora program, he's talking with La Scuola Normale Superiore, Alta Space, and Norman Foster to modify D-Shape to build with moon dust. Voila: instant moonbase.

Enrico Dini

[More pics at Blueprint]

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  • Andy Gray

    Those guys should really be wearing face masks - silicosis is irreversible. Having come from a sculptural background it makes me squirm when I see workshops with people and no PPE.

    Look at that floor, I bet the first thing they do when something is finished is break out the airline and blast the object before removing it from the machine.

  • David Winton

    I'm not sure you would need the steel reinforcement on the moon. The lesser gravity should help with that. Also, I don't think they're using elmer's glue so the implication made by rocks glue and water is a little misleading.

    This is actually an amazingly cool idea. If only it didn't require magnesium-based glue (as best as I know magnesium isn't readily available in the moon). Once one of the building making ones can start printing itself, we can start space exploration in earnest. I wonder what von Neumann would think.

  • Nathan Smith

    "missing link between the tiny 3-D printers of today, which never really caught on beyond gimmicky jewelry and model-making"

    To be fair, home 3-D printers are relatively expensive still, and not as functional as they may someday be. It's like standing around in 1974 saying, the home computer, which never really caught on...

    And 3D printing is used in a lot of industrial applications, although I suppose things like computer chips aren't important.

  • Andy Gray


    You need to think outside of the confines of "Tomorrow's World" and try to imagine something more mundane. It's not a fantastical revolution, moon bases are one thing but the replication of day to day objects where the printer is commonplace.

    It's not going to stand side by side with the microwave but it will be something a growing number of us will tinker with as we do with painting, ceramics, glass fusing and other arts.

    Kids will be making things - it's a steppingstone :)

  • F F

    Never seen anything like it! I'm sure there'll be some real-world applications for it in no time.

  • Cliff McIntire

    The moon is mine. Enrico and I will make BEEELLIONS. If you citizens of earth don't pay, we will construct a stone trebuchet, and hurl uncomfortably shaped rocks at the Earth, from our Moon Unit Stonah.

  • Colleen Milton

    Jessica- in this case it is good press. I absolutely love your jewelry and would not have found it without this article.

    In regards to the articles main content-Astounding. However- to whom does the moon belong? Is this a simple matter of who ever claims the rights (or just gets there )to use its materials first can do as they please?

  • William Lidwell

    'Gimmicky' was a stupid reference, and hers is no more gimmicky than the work of Rashid, Lovegrove, etc. Jessica, it is perhaps small consolation, but their poorly worded link did lead me to discover your work, which I like very much.

  • Jessica R

    you know they say all press is good press. But I'd rather not be called gimmicky and I would ask you to clarify your opinions on generative design. Do you think working in an algorithmic manner is merely a gimmick?