The Story of Enrico Dini – The Man Who Prints Houses

I came across this interesting interview from the Dutch technology magazine ‘De Ingenieur’ with Enrico Dini and translated it for you to read.


He was the first to built a working 3D printer for printing buildings and became world famous as “The Man Who Prints Houses’. Enrico Dini had the brilliant idea of producing ​​layered art structures and parts of buildings but the development of his machine and promotion of his ideas cost him his private life. Yet he pushed on through.

EnricoDiniFor years now, Enrico Dini is flying the world over to speak at conferences and to meet private investors. He is a regular visitor at world- famous architects like Foster + Partners and the Dutch UNStudio. Dini is a nomad who spreads the gospel of 3D printing, to those who will listen.
We speak with the Italian during an event about 3D printing at the RDM Campus in Rotterdam. His pre- presentation was the main course of a series of lectures on layered manufacturing techniques. Before he even said a word, he already received a standing ovation from the two hundred listeners in the room. Dini is somewhat of a kind of rock star in the world of designers and architects. His work is described in leading magazines like Wired and Fast Company. The contrast therefore is huge as he starts talking, a modest tone, in English with a fat Italian accent. Sympathetic, sometimes hesitant, but ever with a hypothermic sense of humor. Dini is anything but a slick salesman. In his presentation, he doesn’t hide the fact that his printer was developed with a lot of trial and error. His first working prototype looked awful, but did print layers out of stone powder. Whatever it takes, he got it done. His PowerPoint presentation shows numerous pictures of Dini in overalls, sweating in a huge dusty space, along with his brother. Enrico Dini, civil engineer by training, has never been afraid get his hands dirty.

Where does this huge passion come from?

‘3d printing is about depositing layers, a well known fact. But a second important feature of it is that you use locally quarried material. My specialty is shaping sand. The result of my search is that it all comes down to building in an affordable way. With an aim to, for example, turn poor desert areas green and habitable’

And the customers are ready to get started with your progressive ideas?

“No, no. When my printer finally started to work, I contacted some renowned architects. In Italy with Renzo Piano, Massimiliano Fuksas, but … (irritated gesture) phew, what an arrogance I received there! Fortunately, it can also be different. When I came into contact with Foster + Partners in London and sent my ideas, I got response within two hours from one of the employees: ‘so you’re saying that you successfully managed to 3D print on a large scale? Then we’ll come over to take a look.’

In April this year the documentary ‘The Man Who Prints Houses’ was released. Two young British filmmakers followed Dini in 2010, the most hectic time of his life.

What did you think of the documentary?

‘I was not so happy with the preview. They filmed me in the most difficult time I have had with my company. I was really portrayed like a crazy person. If that’s going to be my image among investors … then it is not going particularly well.’

Why did you visit the Netherlands?

“I was invited to pitch my ideas about 3D printing with stone powder to an audience of wealthy people, investors. The more I come and visit the Netherlands, the more I like it here. The reactions are really positive, people in the Netherlands have sincere interest in my technology.
When I’m in the UK it is all very different, the investors are much colder, more businesslike. Every time I come here, it feels like a warm bath. The people here love me and my work. I think I need to move here! You should know: my first client was Rinus Roelofs, a Dutch artist know for the complicated mathematical structures he designs. Years ago I gave a lecture in the Netherlands and afterwards he clung to me and would not let me go. He makes beautiful things.’

Enrico Dini was born in 1962. He grew up in Pontedera, a town in Tuscany, between Pisa and Florence. His father is head of the computer department of the famous scooter manufacturer Piaggio, so his aptitude for technology didn’t arise out of thin air. After completing an engineerings course in civil technology, Dini ended up in the footwear industry, which is huge in Italy. he becomes a consultant in the field of robots for this industry.

You called this your golden age.

“About ten years ago was a time of great luxury. I was good at what I did and my wife at the time
also had a top job. We could afford a luxury apartment and our lives consisted of elegant dinner parties with friends. But what sounds like paradise, became a prison for me. One day I looked in the mirror and I suddenly felt too fat and unhappy.’

As a robot specialist, Dini already tinkers with 3D printing in his spare time. Together with his brother, he builds his first prototype, based on a shoe robot.

You seriously saw your new future in this?

‘In the bar I bragged to my friends about easily printing a house with a robot. But that was tall talk of course. However, I soon spent most of my free time experimenting with my first 3D printer. My brother and friends also helped. Later it really became an obsession.’

That would ruin your relationship?

“That was hard. I really believed in the 3d printing story and told her that I really wanted to go for it, because I believe that it can be a sustainable technology for the future. But she did not respond well. ‘You’re not going to succeed ’she said. Painful, but that comment challenged me even more to continue my work.’

Dini’s marriage deteriorates. His wife moved to Rome taking their son. Enrico tinkers feverishly on his printer in Pisa, but is forced to keep his old job as technical consultant for the footwear industry in the north of Italy. To occasionally see his wife and child, he races constantly on the autostrada between Tuscany, Rome and northern Italy. Later on, Dini and his wife permanently split up.
But professionally it is going better with him. In 2005 he succeeds to print a small column of ‘stone’ and he soon makes with his printer the very first layer-by-layer architectural structure in the world: the Radiolaria, designed by Andrea Morgante. Soon after, he is approached from all corners of the architectural world for lectures, brainstorms and participation in projects.


The Radiolaria, designed by Andrea Morgante

Is this the fame you were looking for?

“It’s exhausting, but very exciting to meet new people and if I think about it, this is what I’ve always want to do. It’s a matter of ego, I think, to do something cool and manage to change history a little bit. But there is also a downside. My lifelong commitment to 3D printing has cost me my personal life. It is the reason of my loneliness now. I travel around the world, see my son
every two weeks, but I have no more private life.

In 2012 Dini gets a lot of publicity with the Moebius House, designed by the Dutch architect ir. Janjaap Ruijssenaars. The house has the shape of a Möbius strip and is made up of printed elements, at least, once the building is sold to a first – necessarily wealthy – customer.

In that same year Dini prints several copies of an artificial coral reef, which is being tested in Bahrain. The elements serve as breakwaters, but their complex organic shapes also offers protection to fish and other sea creatures.
In 2015, the World Expo will be held in Milan. Dini participates in one of the entries for the Italian Pavilion. There is currently a project going on in Kuwait, where high artificial trees with 3d printed tree trunks have to provide for the much needed shade in order to make recreation possible in this very hot country.

Do you earn enough now with the printing-houses-business?

‘No, all the money that comes in now, I use to pay off loans and partly recoup my own investments. I burned a few million in total. but very important: I do the things I want to do! Life is short.’

What more would you like to achieve?

‘To simplify my printer to 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.’

Source: De Ingenieur


  1. Edward R. Mudd says

    Dear sir:

    I am an architect in the States and am interested in speaking with Mr. Dini about possibly printing out a design I have for one of my buildings. Would you be able to tell me how to get in touch with Mr. Dini?

    Thank you.
    Edward R. Mudd
    142 Stanmore Road
    Baltimore, MD 21212

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