Theo Jansen: the father of the strandbeests


This is a strandbeest. Strandbeesten is Dutch for ‘beach beasts.’ As the name suggests, they are huge structures are made of PVC tubes, zip ties and recycled bottles. These self-propelling beach animals are mostly powered by the wind.

One often finds these artistically engineered sculptures and their creator Theo Jansen on the beaches of northern Holland.

Photo Credit: Strandbeests

Who is Theo Jansen? Born in the Netherlands, young Jansen was interested in art as well as physics. He was studying applied sciences at the Delft University of Technology but dropped out to pursue his passion, art. He started his career as a landscape painter before moving onto his Strandbeest project in 1990.

So, why did he design these Strandbeests? Jansen’s initial plan was to create some kind of a machine that would collect sand and build dunes on the shores as natural barriers against rising sea levels.

However, over the years as he worked on perfecting these structures he got more interested in the process of evolution and bringing them to life. He tweaked them so they have become better and better at surviving storms, water and other elements on the beach. Some of his more advanced designs also use artificial intelligence to be able to detect water and move away from it or sense a storm coming and anchor themselves into the sand!

He says, “I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”

Guess who was interested in his artwork? NASA!  They are in the process of designing a rover that will explore the surface of Venus. Venus’s harsh environment makes it very different for machines to operate on its surface. The longest time that a machine has survived is 127 minutes! NASA worked with Jansen to see if they can use his expertise to help design the rover!

Is his design a big secret? Absolutely not! Theo Jansen made his design public so that others could be inspired to create more Strandbeesten. In fact if you’d like to make one, you could order a kit online and try your hand at it!

These kinetic sculptors are a perfect fusion of art and engineering!

Preetika is a freelance content writer and transcriptionist. Her interests are photography, crochet, and finding answers for her 3 year old son’s ‘But Why’ questions.
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