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Two Tuscan SMEs to play a crucial role in famed Palmyra Arch reconstruction

by Silvia Pieraccini

The reconstruction of the Palmyra Triumphal Arch, built nearly two thousand years ago and demolished by Islamic State in October 2015, is promoted by the UK-based Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), [a joint venture between Harvard University, the University of Oxford and Dubai's Museum of the Future] and is closely connected to the expanding business of Dini Engineering of Bientina (Pisa), manufacturing partner of the 3D printers marketed by Monolite UK of London under the trademark D-Shape; and to that of Tor Art of Carrara.

This international project, thanks to the media hype and strong cultural interest it is generating, could prove the turning point in activities for the two small, high-tech Tuscan firms. It is also a project that legitimizes Italy as home to technology applied to architecture.
Dini Engineering, with a turnover of €500,000, is headed by Enrico Dini, 54, a Tuscan engineer with past experience in industrial automation for the leather sector who pioneered applied 3D printers and has long been trying to popularize the technology, which operates rather like inkjet printers.

“In this case, though, you have a sheet of sand and you spray onto it the section or plane of the building with a chemical binder, one section after another in layers,” said Dini. “In the end, all of the sand that has not been set is removed, and you extract the block, which is not reproducible in any other way.”

That's how it's going to be for the replica of the Palmyra Arch, 15 meters tall, which is going to be reconstructed over the next few months in operational headquarters set up for this purpose in Dubai, then transported to its original site once the war is over.

In the meantime, Enrico Dini has been working with Giacomo Massari and Filippo Tincolini, owners of Tor Art, a firm specializing in sculpture and stonemasonry and in creating contemporary artwork by means of computer-assisted carving robots (the robots are purchased and adapted, the software is produced directly).

Thanks to their robotic technology, Tor Art has realized a model in Egyptian marble of the Palmyra Arch, five meters high, which has just been mounted to face the amphitheater of the white marble quarry in Carrara's Fantiscritti basin, where the boutique firm is located. Besides the Palmyra Arch replica, Tor Art counts several other ongoing cultural projects.
In a few days, the model replica will fly to London and on April 19, on the occasion of 2016 World Heritage Week, it's going to be displayed in Trafalgar Square in the course of a ceremony that IDA considers science and technology's contribution to preserving the world's architectural heritage.

The two Italian firms' involvement as the hi-tech heart of the Palmyra project is due to Dini's accumulated hands-on experience in 3D printers and to the fact he owns London-based Monolite UK Ltd. “The Palmyra project, considering the prestige of the major international players involved,” Dini confided, “can give us access to two crucial factors that can develop the D-Shape printer business in building houses: sand and money.”