Some undulate across the sand like caterpillars. Others walk quickly with dozens of bustling legs. Some wave tall flags. Some wiggle fins. And now, some fly like giant beetle-shaped kites.
These are Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests, beach creatures made from lightweight PVC tubing and sail-like parts. The Dutch kinetic artist began to explore these wind-powered creations in the 1980s. Today, he continues to create new structures, testing them each spring, summer, and autumn. The most successfully engineered components are continued into the following year.
“Jansen first created his strandbeests with a particular purpose in mind. They were intended as a solution to a problem that is still topical today: climate change. He wrote a newspaper article about the danger of sea-level rise, and he put forward a solution: animals made of electrical tubing that would churn up the beach and blow the sand onto the dunes to reinforce them. He then followed up by actually making the creatures, and he has never stopped since.”
“Each new species was given a Latin name – Animaris Vulgaris, Animaris Rhinoceros, Mater Extensa – and Jansen has now divided the evolution of his strandbeests into twelve periods, based on various characteristics. In the most recent period, the ‘Volantum’ (2020-2021), he has even developed a strandbeest that flies.”
And how do these beach beasts walk? From the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation:
“In order to transfer the energy captured from the wind into kinetic energy that can drive the beasts forwards, the structure of each of the beasts’ limbs is vital. Very simply put, to understand the motion of the creatures, we must think of the creatures’ spines like the crankshaft of a car. As the sail-like wings fill with wind and start to pump, they feed energy into the spine, which, like the crankshaft in the engine of a car, begins to rotate. Instead of pistons, the spine has several legs attached to it, each of which is made up of eleven different sized rods. The rotation of the spine drives these legs around in an almost elliptical shape, bending at the knee, and moving the creature forwards across the hard sand in a level gait.
“The efficient motion of the beasts means that heavy loads can be moved even with a very small external force.”
Related reading and DIY at The Exploratorium: 6 Ordinary Things You Need to Make a Strandbeest.
Watch more strandbeest and wind videos, including:
• Beach Creatures: Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests
• Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest on the beach in San Francisco
• The Beach Walker: Theo Jansen brings Strandbeests to Art Basel
• How does artist Anthony Howe fabricate a kinetic wind sculpture?
• Climbing Wind Turbines for a Living
• Morske Orgulje, the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia
• What is wind? – It’s Okay To Be Smart
This Webby award-winning video collection exists to help teachers, librarians, and families spark kid wonder and curiosity. TKSST features smarter, more meaningful content than what's usually served up by YouTube's algorithms, and amplifies the creators who make that content.
Curated, kid-friendly, independently-published. Support this mission by becoming a sustaining member today.