Theo Jansen’s Wind-Walking Kinetic Beasts

December 30, 2015 | Reece Alvarez

Photo credit: Screenshot from Theo Janson YouTube video

Strandbeests — large to giant skeletal frames powered by wind and the genius of an scientifically inclined artist.

For 25 years, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been creating “living” machines known as Strandbeests — wind powered, animal-like kinetic sculptures that embody the intersection of science and art.

Strandbeests, translating to “beach beasts” in Dutch, come in a variety of forms and have “evolved” over time to develop new abilities. From horse- and elephant-sized beests with a few legs or dozens, Jansen has bestowed pseudo-intelligence upon his creations. More advanced beests having the ability to  store wind power, detect and avoid the shoreline, and even anchor themselves to the beach in preparation for bad weather.

Jansen speaks of his creations as if they were alive and names them using binomial nomenclature such as Animaris Adulari and Animaris Turgentia Vela.

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He envisions a future where the beests can literally roam free across the beaches along his home and workplace of Scheveningen in the Netherlands where he tests his creations.

“Eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives,” Jansen writes on his website.

Jansen creates the beests from relatively cheap, durable and light PVC tubing and uses sails to harvest wind energy to propel the creatures.

Some of the sculptures have what Jansen refers to as a stomach, created from a series of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pumps driven by wings that flap in the breeze.

To develop the creatures fluid gait, Jansen used computer models and spent months crunching numbers to develop a formula of “11 holy numbers” that enable the beests to walk the way they do.



In an effort to spread Strandbeests across the world, Jansen has shared the formulas for his creations on his website and even provides books, DVDs, and assembly kits so anyone can create or 3D print their own miniature Strandbeest at home.

Jansen held his first major American exhibition this year at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts, and has displayed his creations all over the world, including recently in Tokyo and Madrid. His upcoming exhibition will be in 2016 at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Check out Theo Janson's video of the evolution of his Strandbeests below: 

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