Kinetic sculptures create new life forms

Theo Jansen demonstrates the kinematic design and functional construction of his Strandbeests.

Theo Jansen envisions himself as a creator of new life forms. He builds kinetic sculptures and designs them so that they can move on their own and also survive for long periods of time.

In his TED Talk My creations, a new form of life Jansen demonstrates a few sculptures, shows a few recorded segments and discusses his motives and goals. This talk was recorded in 2007 and Jansen had already been working with these sculptures for sixteen years.

Beasts, as the sculptures are called, get energy from the wind through sails built onto the creatures’ backs. The wind is pumped into recycled bottles with bicycle pumps and plastic tubing to create pressure. As the wind is harnessed and transformed into motion most beasts scurry along the beach with crablike movements.

The sculptures are designed to exist on the shoreline, and reaching the ocean surf or dry sand causes the creatures to move in the opposite direction. Design of the sculptures is incredibly complicated, and Jansen tells us that eleven holy numbers dictate the structure and movements.

Jansen demonstrates the feeler mechanism that takes in air and its ability to sense the resistance change when taking in water. Next is the brain, a step counter that uses a binary layout to count the steps between the surf and the sandy beach. The nose of the animal can sense a storm and then drive a pin into the ground to fix the beast into the ground and avoid being blown away.

Theo Jansen’s primal engineering goal is to move forward the idea of mobility. Over the course of three decades he has built more complex structures using a small variety of materials and a full zoological park of different designs.

The beasts and Jansen both have been built up to legendary status, with several books and dvds published and speaking engagements all over the world. The Strandbeest website has a fantastic archive of videos, photos and kinematic layouts to showcase this inspirational body of work.