StrandBeests by Theo Jansen

StrandBeests by Theo Jansen

theo jansen on the beach

For the past 25 years Jansen has been whole heartedly perfecting his Strandbeest designs on the Dutch seaside while gaining international fame.

A lot of people think that I am crazy ..  but  …. This will be my Life’s work !  ”  … Theo  2009

Theo Jansen is a Dutch kinetic artist who builds walking kinetic sculptures ( StrandBeests = Beach Animals ) that he calls a new form of life.

By definition, kinetic art is art from any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depends on motion for its effect.

Today, this term is used to describe three-dimensional sculptures that usually move unassisted or are powered by a motor.

theo jansen 1

In the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci, Theo Jansen has applied his background in art and engineering toward the creation of extraordinary self-propelled creatures called StrandBeests

Like the mechanical devices that Leonardo di Vinci designed back in the 15th century, Jansen’s contraptions are both archaic and futuristic.

His Strandbeest seem so organic that from a distance they could be mistaken for huge insects or prehistoric mammoth skeletons, but they are made of materials from the industrial age: flexible plastic tubes, adhesive tape.

Made from PVC tubing, the wind-powered creatures exist within the worlds of science and art, while flirting with issues of architecture and design.

He has taken a scientific approach to this art form, which relies on engineering and the evolution of design.

His assemblage Strandbeests are not only the fusion of art and engineering, but a 3D mechanism with an artificial intelligence / life of their own.

The Dutchman’s intent is nothing less than recreating the adventure of life by “playing God.” through his devotion to the idea to create a new form of life

“A self-styled God, Jansen is evolving an entirely new line of animals: immense multi-legged walking creatures designed to roam the Dutch coastline, feeding on gusts of wind and fleeing from water…….. ”

Since 1990 Jansen has been building large wind-powered mechanisms skeletons made of electric-conduits which walk on wind power and are able to traverse beaches.

‘’Plastic PVC tubes entered my life one fine September day in 1990, and since then, the StrandBeests have ruled my life.

They’ve become an addiction, a disease, a virus if you like. A virus that has commandeered and refuses to leave my body.

I am their victim: The StrandBeests are forcing me to make them.‘’

Jansen’s familiarity with his material, PVC conduit, started as a kid when he used them to shoot paper blow darts.

When we were little, we used to do this with them ……… He took a student notebook, tore out a sheet of graph paper, rolled it into a tight cone, wet the point of the cone with his tongue, tore off the base of the cone so it fit snugly into the tube, raised the tube to his lips, blew, and sent the paper dart smack into the wall, fifteen feet away.  “I believe it is now illegal for children in Dutch schools to have these tubes,”  ….. Theo explained

From 1947, Dutch law has decreed that this Strandbeest yellow “electricity tubing”  ( a cheap, common material in Holland ) be used to conduct electricity cables in houses around the country

Since then Holland has produced over 6 million kms of electricity tubing. With so much available it was easy for Theo to find discard pieces among rubble in building skips or lying about on the street.

In the Netherlands, plastic tubing cost 10 euro cents a metre, which means that a large Beest 10 mtrs x 4 mtrs x 4 mtrs uses about 100 euro of tubing was bought, which Theo tries to avoid if possible

Holland changed the colour of the tubes from white to yellow in 1980. You see they are a cheese yellow when they are new—a good color for Holland.

Exposure to sun and rain causes the current yellow tubing to fade to white. It also becomes brittle and bone like with time

His newest creatures walk without assistance on the beaches of Holland, powered by wind, captured by gossamer wings that flap and pump air into old lemonade bottles that in turn power the creatures’ many plastic spindly legs.

The walking sculptures look alive as they move, each leg articulating in such a way that the body is steady and level.

They even incorporate primitive logic gates that are used to reverse the machine’s direction if it senses dangerous water or loose sand where it might get stuck.

Jansen’s StrandBeest’s are made from simple materials such as yellow PVC tubing and plastic bottles, these self-contained systems utilize available (and stored) wind power for their unique locomotion.

He strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they can avoid obstacles by changing course when one is detected, such as the sea itself.

These animals have evolved into several generations over the last 25 years.

“These new forms are not made of protein like the existing life-forms. Theirs is another basic stuff, yellow plastic tubing which I have used as the basic material of this new nature.”

All those who observe for the fist time the beauty of one of Theo Jansen’s creatures moving around the sand understand immediately that the work of this engineer, scientist and artist is something special.

Strandbeests loosely resemble prehistoric creatures that are mesmerizing to look at when they stand still. When they move, however, they are nothing short of hypnotic.

The complexity of his creations is incredible, and with so many movable parts it is almost hard to believe that they could be powered by the wind.

He talks about his StrandBbeests as if they’re real, biological creatures.

Theo describes his StrandBeests as migrational creatures, explaining that they move five kilometers away down the beach, and then stop to wait for the wind to turn, which sometimes takes weeks.

“But…” Jansen said, “they are very patient animals.”

theo schevening

I would not describe Jansen solely as an artist, but rather as something combining artist, biomechanic, evolutionary theorist, theologist and philosopher.

In the last decade, dazzled by the digital revolution, his works could seem rudimentary, above all compared to the sophisticated productions his contemporary colleagues have been carrying out in the field of robotic art.

Nowadays, in the age in which the coexistence between technique and nature in pursuit of sustainability is an urgent priority, his design strategies are more relevant than ever.

If you didn’t give anybody money any more, you’ll see the real artist and you’ll see the real scientist and they’ll probably be one person.

In his future plans Jansen aims to explore new parts of the structure that will mimic functions of a real organism like nerves and a type of a brain that could take simple decisions.

Eventually he wants to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

theo jansen strandbeests (10)


2008 Michigan Uni presentation incl amoebe video


I don’t want to make ‘nice’ animals, I just want to make surviving animals, they can be very nasty; my relationship with the beasts is different from what it is with people or animals. They are so low in their evolutionary development I still see them as machines.”

Jansen, who is 66 years old, has big plans for his creatures.

Within the next 20 years I want the animals to be independent from me, so they take their own decisions – when to walk on the beach, what to anchor themselves against during storms or when to move away from the water.

He acknowledges that he’s trying to accelerate the pace of evolution.

AI means that you teach a beast to learn, and I’m not that far yet. I’d love to go to that stage of evolution, but I’m afraid my animals are still very primitive and you couldn’t even compare them to a worm. They’ve only been around for 24 years, and normally evolution takes millions of years. I’ve a very short time – maybe I’ve still got 20 years to live – and I’m in a hurry with the evolution of the beast.”




Theo’s own ” Evolution “

theo jansen

Theo Jansen was born “Theodorus Gerardus Jozef Jansen” on the 14th March, 1948 in Scheveningen in the Netherlands.

Theo was born and grew up in Scheveningen, a small port city just north of Delft.

He was the youngest of 11 children, born soon after the Allied liberation of Holland to a farm family that had been forced into cramped quarters in an urban apartment in the Scheveningen district along The Hague’s northwest seashore.

His father, a farmer, moved the family there after losing his farm during the Second World War.

Jansen describes his as a happy if somewhat impoverished youth.

In Scheveningen, the family supported itself mainly by taking in German tourists who wanted to vacation at the beach, just across the street from the Jansens’ apartment.

Theo remembers his mother waking him and his six brothers and four sisters early in the morning during the summers so they could deflate the air mattresses they had slept on and get them out of the living room before the guests occupying the family’s beds woke up.

He went to primary and secondary schools in Scheveningen

Jansen tells of his dream, since he was a little boy, was to become a pilot. He wanted “to spend the rest of his life in the clouds.” But, his eyes weren’t good enough, and he had to find something else to do.

Adept at both drawing and math, Jansen put in seven years at Delft University of Technology on the physics track.

He studied physics at the University of Delft from 1968-1974.

At university he was involved in several projects which combined physics and art

But then he realized that he was never going to be happy ‘’working as a robot for Philips electronics,’’ and thereafter he gave himself over completely to the more ‘’hippieish’’ pursuits of music-making and painting that had been calling out to him all the while.

He left University in 1974 without a degree.

After university, he became an artist and did other things, like work in a medical laboratory.

He concentrated on landscape painting. His landscape paintings, which he spiced up by putting in women wearing only underwear, had some success—“They were vulgar paintings, but they sold”

Theo grew up in the district where the legendary painter Johannes Vermeer, painted most of his landscape works of art

Holland’s landscape is man-made. Only the sands and the dunes along the coast are more or less nature’s creation. They are our natural defense against the sea. . . .

The earliest known drawings of Holland’s landscape are views of the dunes near Haarlem recorded by Hendrick Goltzius around 1600.

Many landscape specialists followed in his footsteps. . . . Their work shows the wide, endless space, the quiet and the wildness.

Later he thought ” it must be strange for a landscape painter to live in a landscape that was fixed in oil and ratified permanently by the great Dutch painters of the seventeenth century.”


Works of Art by Theo Jansen from 1980-1990. UFO and painting machine

Late in the 1970s, he and a group of friends managed to commandeer an abandoned school off a Delft canal (one that Werner Herzog had just abandoned after shooting ‘’Nosferatu’’ there) as their studio and living space, and he has been living there on and off ever since.

In it he built a large pair of feathered wings and propelled himself through the air by means of them while suspended on cables.

He had several shows of his work in Dutch museums and galleries, marking one opening with the launch of a twenty-foot-long rocket he’d made.

Jansen said his whole career was “ not my road. I was just taken by circumstances.” His work often took a similarly capricious path.

Before Jansen attained his fame through his Strandbeests project, he conceived two other high profile projects before he began with his beach animals in 1990.


U.F.O Project 1980


Before Jansen began his life’s work, of building mechanical animals out of PVC, he undertook a project that would inspire him to use PVC on other projects.

In 1979, Jansen was “attacked by an idea” to build a flying saucer and send it off over his town.

After two previous, failed attempts (1: at Groningen, UFO increased too quickly. 2: at Kwintsheul, UFO disappeared above the sea) as all held their breath.

Then on the 7th April, 1980, with some friends, their dogs, and a tank of helium, he filled up a 4 meter lightweight, blinking, black plastic saucer disk complete with dangling plastic paint bucket that emitted spooky outer-space-like beeps, and let it go from the nearby Elsenburger Forest

He used the same type of PVC tubes that he uses to make the Strandbeests, to construct a four-meter flying saucer filled with helium that he flew over Delft

Immediately, a local sensation resembling the “War of the Worlds” episode (if less frantic and more civilized) ensued


It hovered, rose, darted (with the wind), went in and out of clouds.

At the moment we launched it, the air was blustery and the sky was a bit hazy and because the saucer was black, it made a large contrast with its light background.

That is why some people thought it had a halo around it. You just saw a black disc without any depth, so it was hard to estimate the height.

The whole police force turned out that night. They interviewed people in the town afterwards to see what they “saw.” One person told the Police told that it was as large as the nuclear reactor in Delft  (30 mtrs wide ).

It disappeared in the clouds and probably landed in Belgium.

We never found it again.

In 1981 he re did the project over Paris with out success as before in Delft

After the flying saucer I was not really attracted to paint anymore, I was not able to do that anymore. I was too restless , I have tasted the fact of a small thing posted in the air and the whole country was upside down, then I wanted to make more machines, and this is when the painter machine started.


Painting Machine

schilder machine

From 1984 through 1986 he concentrated on developing a “painting machine” ( a massive inkjet printer, or rather a paint-jet scanner-printer ) that created two-dimensional silhouette spray-painted images of objects and people in front of it.

In those days there were no printers yet so it was quite unusual to paint with a painting machine like that, especially as the perspective of the images that came out of the painting machine because it made real size photos in front of the wall so the distance didn’t matter at all” ……. Theo Jansen

painting machine

The painting machine was a light-sensitive spray-gun that he demonstrated at local fairs.

This machine was attached to a large piece of wood and hoisted against a wall where it would move back and forth and create 2D images of everything in the room

The light cell was situated at the end of a tube, so it would only react to the light directly hitting straight into the length of the tube. It reacted to the dark and light points in the room and painted them on the wall. When light fell on the light cell the spray-gun would stop spraying. It only sprayed when there was no light. If it encountered a dark point, the spray gun would spray; if not, it would shut.

It created a photographic image, in which all perspective is vanished. If a chair was standing a meter or 100 meters it would be the same size. That was the special thing about the painting machine because you could also make opposite perspective objects with it so I also made photographs of chairs and tables which were in opposite.

Things which were closer were smaller and things which were bigger were further away from the wall so it’s just the opposite of normal perspective.

Theo Jansen

It made me change my living just for a lot of dreaming about abstract 3D forms in my head and the possibilities of machines.

It really did change my thinking and my attitude.


Rotterdam Computerprint,  1986   Rotterdam Central Station    40 m long x 3 m high,

He  was a teacher at the photography department, Royal Academy of Art (KABK), The Hague

In 1989 he participated in an exhibition at Het Prinsenhof with the Inventieven group. Makes large rocket, which was launched at the opening


Flying Drill

flying drill 1

A drill was hanging at the end of a long cord measuring 45 meters between two buildings located in The Hague.

In its drill head a small propeller was mounted in place of the drill.

As soon as the cord was plugged in at one of the buildings, the drill moved around, not in circles but making complex movements


Journalism  1986 – 2008

Jansen also wrote fortnightly columns for Dutch newspapers as well as books.

This column really forced me to think about anything in the world and because every time I tried to find new, strange perspectives on reality and in effect, the strandbeests they started off as a column in the newspaper and that is about 18 years ago now and in the first period after that nothing happened.”

Since 1986 Theo has contributed a column every two weeks to the Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant, or The People’s Newspaper ( National ), where he began championing all sorts of variously inspired schemes eg

1) a new method for televising soccer matches (with the ball digitally fixed, continuously steady, at the very center of the screen as play, the players and the field swirled wildly about it);

2) a new feature for passenger-jet flight, with the nose of the plane chopped clean off and the space immediately behind it converted into an observation deck, approachable through an airlock and entirely open to the elements (Jansen remains convinced and could almost convince you that the various air pressures would even out);

3) an arrangement of six mechanical plug-in timers, piggybacked in a way, one upon the next, that the outermost one could be counted on to sound off once every 23 million years (you never knew when such a thing might come in handy).

“I have been writing pieces for de Volkskrant national on daily matters that interest me.  Often these are technical things, fantasies or musings.  I had no idea at the time that one of these columns would ultimately define the rest of my life.“

And then one day, several years into this journalistic dalliance — on Feb. 24, 1990 — Jansen took note of the fact that the seas seemed to be rising, the high tides registering ever higher up the beaches with each passing season, a development, he pointed out, that ought to be of considerable concern to his fellow Netherlanders, citizens, after all, of the Low Countries, territories much of which famously lie beneath sea level.

He suggested, wasn’t the problem simply one of finding a way of transferring sand grains from the bottom of the beach up to the top, in the form of giant, continuously maintained protective dunes.

As a solution, he proposed to build animals that would toss sand in the air so that it would land on and augment the seaside dunes.

What he envisioned were self-propelled creatures that would restore the balance between water and land, the way beavers do in Dutch marshes.

If that was all there was to it, why not just invent a race of wind-powered beach creatures — Strandbeests, as he dubbed them — veritable herds of them, that could merrily perform the task in perpetuity.

He promised to devote a year to the project, and it has occupied him exclusively ever since.

In fact, he informed his readers, he already had two prototypes firmly in mind, and he was planning to take the coming summer to build the things, so they could be placed onto the coast in time for the first autumn storms.

‘’Perhaps,’’ he concluded by way of blithe surmise, ‘’the Dutch coast will look quite different in a year’s time.’’

I had written the column and then half a year later, I got the idea of going to the shop and buying some of these tubes. I started playing with it and I did that for an afternoon and in the period of the afternoon, I decided to spend one year on these tubes, on these conduits because I saw so many possibilities in there.

More even than the Strandbeests, the possibilities he saw for the tubes changed his life, he says. It turned out to be more than I could ever think of all those years ago.

‘’I suppose I was a little over optimistic back then,’’ … ‘’I fancied myself becoming a hero by saving the entire country, like that proverbial Dutch boy with his finger in the dam wall.‘’


About StrandBeests

Jansen had been thinking about the fundaments of life for several years before he proposed the Strandbeests, ever since reading ‘’The Blind Watchmaker,’’ the 1986 best seller by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

‘’That book had an enormous impact on me.’’

In the distant past, Jansen said, there were nakedly vulnerable insects and dim-sighted birds, but over time some of those insects, through random, accidental mutation, began looking more and more like sticks, while to counter this tendency, their bird predators (again through random, accidental mutation) developed progressively sharper vision.

The two creatures, as it were, created each other.


Theo put all of his aeronautical, robotics, physics and engineering experience into the artificial animals that live on the Scheveningen beach in the Netherlands.

His interest in designing living and autonomous organisms via software made him begin his series of kinetic sculptures “Strandbeest,” a project which has brought him international recognition.

Their skeletons comprise the yellow plastic PVC tubing, and their energy comes from the wind, which means they don’t have to eat like regular animals.

Jansen’s creatures begin to take shape as a simulation inside a computer, in the shape of artificial life organisms which compete among themselves to be the quickest.

Jansen studies the winning creatures and reconstructs them three-dimensionally with light and flexible tubes, nylon thread and adhesive tape.

Those moving around more efficiently will donate their “DNA” (length and disposition of the tubes forming their movable parts) to the following Standbeest generations.


Through this process of hybridization and Darwinian evolution, creatures become more and more capable of living in their environment, and can even take decisions to guarantee their survival.

Since 1990 he has been developing a series of mechanisms that in recent years has been reduced in scale.

What initially emerged as big “beasts” composed of pvc pipes, which moved only by the wind, has evolved to smaller sizes adapting manufacturing processes to new technologies, or as self Theo Jansen says “evolve as a living environment that surrounds them.”

theo 8

They evolved over many “generations” so that they have become increasingly adept at surviving storms, splashing waves, and sand mucking up their joints.

The latest generations of StrandBeest are outfitted with a gland system so that the sand can no longer get stuck in the joints.

They move thanks to the force of the wind and wet sand they find in their habitat on the wild, ocean-bordering beaches of the Dutch coast.

wind bottles

Strandbeests move on compressed and fresh air using small sails and the plastic bottles that form the guts or stomach of the beasts.

Jansen talks about the Strandbeests as if they were his children or his creations. They are not inanimate to him. The Strandbeests are life forms to Jansen.

Ultimately, Jansen’s wish is to be able to release herds of the animals on the shore where they can autonomously “live” without him – though he does note that humans will have to help take care of them after he is gone, for repairs etc.

His inspiration for making and evolving the Strandbeests all these years is to “re-do” creation, hoping to become wiser about the existing nature of life by encountering the same sorts of problems that the “real creator” had to face.


TED Talk Delft, Holland 2012

In 2012 he spoke to another TED audience, this time in his native country and in the city of Delft

After the first video, he waxes like a prophet articulating new life forms.

Depending on your own point of view or how literally you accept his metaphysics, the Ted talk becomes more and more surreal, or charmingly whimsical—or maybe both.

Either way, it’s a fascinating journey that he takes us on, as he gives his “life forms” their day in the sun.

demonstrating the “liar” brain



theo presenting

StrandBeests were born inside a computer as an algorithm, but they do not require engines, sensors or any other type of advanced technology in order to walk.

At the beginning of the 80s, Jansen began to create algorithm programs of artificial life simulation.

His creatures began to take shape as a simulation inside an Atari computer, in the shape of artificial life organisms which compete among themselves to be the quickest.

Jansen studies the winning creatures and reconstructs them three-dimensionally with light and flexible tubes, nylon thread and adhesive tape.

Jansen, in thrall to this notion, went on to create a sort of primitive protocreature of his own on his primordial Atari computer, a creature that consisted of just four abutting line segments.

Across a near endless sequence of ‘’generations,’’ spread over a long night of machine-generated-and-evaluated permutations, the creatures grew ever more sly and cleverly adaptive.

After that Jansen began trying to model the mystery of walking by deploying stick figures in a similar fashion.

‘’In its essence,’’ he said, ‘’walking is simply constantly changing your shape in such a way that you move forward. But how exactly does it work?’’

And it was in the midst of those cogitations that, as Jansen himself was walking along the Scheveningen shore one day, the thought entered his head that maybe he ‘’should pay a visit to the hardware store and check out their plastic tubing.’’

He bought a length of standard yellow PVC pipe and took it back to his studio. His first experiments, in the early ’90s, were ‘’sad, pathetic, really hopeless’’ affairs (‘’I was so naïve’’).

legs of vulgaris model using tape

He used tape to connect the PVC rods, but the creatures kept tearing and collapsing from their own weight; nor did he seem able to get them to walk properly.

He advanced from tape to tie-cords, and that was somewhat better, though the walking mechanism was still all wrong.

He was lost in a maze of sines and cosines, mapping out legs with two separate cranks, one for the upper limb and one for the lower, differing in phase by 90 degrees.

theo demonstrating the legs

The breakthrough, or rather two major breakthroughs, occurred on a single night, at the end of 1991.

First he realized that the leg could have a far simpler structure if a single crank were moved up to the hip joint.

The leg itself would need to be fashioned out of 13 rods, pivoting in relation to one another, so that everything would depend on the specific ratio of the lengths of the 13 segments, one to another.

The goal would be to create a long, slow stride with gentle curves planting the leg onto the ground and then pulling it up in order to quickly bring it back to the front of the next long stride.

But how to determine those ratios?

There were millions, probably billions, of possible combinations of the 13 figures, and even a computer working its way through all of them in brute sequence, especially in those days, would most likely take centuries to evaluate them all.

But — and here came his second breakthrough of the night, a reversion to his Dawkins ideal — what if, once again drawing on those earlier experiments, he were instead to program an algorithm whereby thousands of sets of ratios could randomly compete against one another, the best virtual performers advancing forward as the basis for a new generation, generation after generation, until the algorithm itself naturally brought forth the best solution ?

He started out with 1,500 leg lengths, then ran a selection and reproduction program for a month to test, eliminate, and duplicate possibilities.

He tried it, and his Atari chugged away literally for months, but eventually he had the magic ratios, 13 specific numbers that were to form the proportional basis for all the walking beasts that followed.

These, then, are the holy numbers: a = 38, b = 41.5, c = 39.3, d = 40.1, e = 55.8, f = 39.4, g = 36.7, h = 65.7, i = 49, j = 50, k = 61.9, l=7.8, m=15 .

It is thanks to these numbers that the animals walk the way they do.

He calls these numbers the “DNA code of the Strandbeest.”

legs in motion gifThe point was — and Jansen grew quite adamant about this — he never modelled his beests’ walk on that of any naturally occurring creatures (specific insects or striding mammals of any given sort); rather, he generated his ratios in much the same way that nature itself had most likely done so, natural history understood in this context as a vast sort of calculating algorithm, with evolution unfurling over eons of time through the marvels of natural selection.

Jansen described the evolution of the Strandbeest as determined by his own process of natural selection during experimentation.

Some of the ideas and components work, and are able to survive the stormy, sandy conditions of the Holland beaches, and some don’t.

He “passes” in a way, these successful traits into the next generation of animals

jansen cycle


No wonder, though, that his creatures began evincing their uncannily ‘’lifelike’’ gait




strandbeest parts (4)


I wake up every morning with a brilliant idea, hop onto my bike and head to his studio. Yet, by afternoon, my idea is often “a little less brilliant.  …..  The PVC “protests” his ideas. The tubes create the animals and dictate what they can do. And after 25 years, I am still in love with these tubes.

strandbeest parts (3)

strandbeest feet (4)


The electric carriage that Theo built to help him pull the creatures without volunteers to help out

The electric carriage that Theo built to help him pull the creatures without volunteers to help out


Wind Storage

wind storage

Technology, biology, and art work together.

The wind-powered movement of Jansen’s animals is achieved by storing and releasing compressed air from soda bottles, captured from wing or fin-like sails.

This air powers PVC pistons, forming a muscle system. Jansen uses valves to act as a peripheral nervous system, controlling the contraction and relaxation of the PVC pneumatics. Pistons regulate other pathways – when air pushes through one, it can stop air flow in another. Complex arrangement of these act as “logic gates.”

Jansen explained these valves as communicating with each other, telling each other “yes” or “no,” “open” or “close,” comparing these yes and no’s to the 0 and 1 binary digits that form the foundation of digital electronics.

Jansen explained, “What you can do with electronics you can do with air.”


Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach .

This consists 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 pump, needless to say of plastic tubing.

Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full.

They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed.


The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal.

For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so.

These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out.

There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston.

When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens.

The beach animal’s muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer.

Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on.

This creates control centres that can be compared to brains.


Nerve Cells

wind bottles

Well, the nerve cells are the element, the basic element of the brain.

You could also say it’s a sort of computer.

In a computer, the nerve cell divides where there is an input or output and my nerve cells work in the way that the input is zero and the output is one so it’s the opposite from the input and that means if there is air on the input, pressure on the input there is no pressure on the output.

In real animals, nerve cells transmit messages through electrical signals. But I use compressed air for my “beests” instead of electric signals.

There are senders and receivers in a real nervous system. I also invented a similar system.

One unit of a nerve system is composed of 2 piston tubes. One piston tube is composed of two pieces of tube and each having a valve inside. Each piston tube is connected to the others with polyurethane tubes.

I use “0” as the numerical condition of the valve being opened and “1” as being closed.

Once air goes in, the inside pressure raises and the first piston starts moving. As it moves, the valve opens and allows air into the second piston tube. The same the next valve. But a lie to a lie means truth. It is my belief that a complex brain type structure is possible with this system and I intend to try and prove this in the future.

theo at fed square 2010

With this principle, you can make a network just like in electronics. And so you can make binary counters, time mechanisms.

In fact, it is a step counter, and it counts the steps. It’s a binary step counter.

So as soon it has been to the sea, it changes the pattern of zeroes and ones here, and it knows always where it is on the beach.

So it’s very simple brain. It says, well, there’s the sea, there are dunes, and I’m here.

So it’s a sort of imagination of the simple world of the beach animal.

strandbeest nerve cells muscles and joints

“…The brain will in future contain a time mechanism which runs parallel with the tides of the sea so they will know in advance when the sea is coming, and they move to the dunes ahead of the tides…. Also, they have sensors which feel the water of the sea. That works quite well these days. They have a sort of tube which is going very close to the ground sucking in air all the time…… As soon as it comes into the water, it swallows the water of the sea and then it feels the resistance of it and then it immediately goes the other way out of the sea again because it’s longer….. One minute into the rolling surf, they’re lost because they’re sucked in and cannot come out any more.

nerve cells

Future Strandbeests will have step counters which will be reset by feeling the water and they run away from the sea and they count the steps away from the sea so they know where the sea is.

This is what you could call a very primitive imagination. We have our imagination,we have a sort of mirror world in our head which represents the real world around us.

It is a copy of the world and our world is very complex but the beach animals world is very simple.

On the right hand side is the sea, on the left is the dunes and there’s no disposition toward those two elements and so these nerve cells, one nerve cell, works quite well which it does now then the possibilities are endless.



water feeler

The Stranbeests have to survive all the dangers of the beach, and one of the big dangers is the sea.

This is the sea. And it must feel the water of the sea.

And this is the water feeler. It sucks in air normally, but when it swallows water, it feels the resistance of it.

So imagine that the animal is walking towards the sea. As soon as it touches the water, you can hear a sort of sound of running air.

So if it doesn’t feel, it will be drowned


Wind Lab Ypenburg, Schevening

wind lab

wind lab

The lab consists of a sandpit measuring 30 x 15 meter, a cabin, a large sea container and lots willow trees on a man-made hill in the suburb of Ypenburg, near Delft.

The hill is on land that used to be a military airport, and serves as a sound barrier between a highway on one side and apartment houses on the other.

A sort of no man’s zone, it remains mostly unoccupied, so local officials let Theo use it to assemble and store his Strandbeests.


Theo’s small on-site workshop is filled with tools like vises, saws, clamps, and heat guns for softening the plastic tubes. On perforated wall boards, tools hung neatly inside their black magic-marker outlines.

From a workbench Theo picked up a piece of three-quarter-inch PVC tube about two feet long.

theo lab

theo studio workshop



Animaris Apodiacula lies prone on the beach

Animaris Apodiacula lies prone on the beach

Tumbling has always been a problem for Strandbeests.

The StrandBeests must always walk with their nose into the wind. When the wind comes sideways they blow over.

Theo is working on programs so they always know where the wind comes from and they put their nose into the wind.

Seagulls do the same thing when they are standing on the beach otherwise they would blow away as well.

The place where I work now is quite inland, about 10km inland where I have a sort of sandpit, 30m x 50m, here I’m working on them until they’re mature enough to go to the real beach because they’re not strong enough to survive a very long time in the beaches more than 5 minutes

Because the elements on the real beach are a lot worse than they are here, I really must train them a lot better.

Even low animals like Adulari tended to roll instead of walking when the wind becomes strong.

Until last summer. The Animaris Apodiacula doesn’t tip over anymore. Not even in strong winds. Buttresses prevent the beast from tumbling. Next spring the new generation will have buttresses on both sides

Although they are still basic, the Strandbeests are now more self-sufficient.

“They’ve found better ways to protect themselves against storms, they have sensors that feel the water and feel the hardness of the sand. They’ve become better and better at surviving on the beaches.”

One development means they can now walk on soft as well as hard sand. “It’s easy to walk on hard sand because they’re pushed by the wind, but on soft sand they need a special drive system which is driven by pressed air.

“Now the animals have a way of storing the wind,” says Jansen. “There are wings which go up and down in the wind, and there are pumps connected to those wings which pump air into bottles at high pressure. The pressed air can drive muscles – ski poles that lift the animal and help push it over the soft sand.”



fossil strandbeest

Many of his works and ideas didn’t work for some unforeseen reason.

Usually there are only one or two animals living at one time.

As soon as the development of an animal is at its end, I declare it extinct and I push it onto the bone yard.

The animals there can be seen as the fossils of extinct species.


Exposure to sun and rain causes the tubes to fade, making these appear more bone like with time. Their age can be estimated by their colour

The sandpit is the pre-heaven for the beach animals. They are not yet ready to survive the real beach. I still have to train them.

Usually I take them out once a year to the real beach to let them get a taste of their natural environment


Each October, Jansen starts work on a new beast; the following May, when it is half-finished, he takes it to the beach near where he lives in Scheveningen and sets it free to roam throughout the summer.

“In the autumn I’m wiser, and I declare the animal extinct – it becomes a fossil. These fossils go out to the boneyard, which are the exhibitions.”

The yellow PVC tubing the animals are made of bleaches to bone white in the sun; wrecks of defunct Strandbeests lay in the hilltop grass like heaps of old bones.

“During the years of Strandbeest evolution, I threw lots of evolutionary unsuccessful parts on the roof of my cabin. Volunteers gathered them, cleaned them, catagorized them and then they put them put them into display cases.”

Jansen, however, is not aiming to mimic the natural world. “I want to forget everything that I know about existing nature. I want to make new animals, and not imitate the old evolution. So any resemblance between a dinosaur and my work is purely coincidence.”

Despite his scientific approach, the artist does find himself becoming attached to his creations.

Jansen admits to feeling sad when he retires each creature: “They die, and I die a little as well, because I have to say goodbye to the animals.”

fossiil with head stone

He then starts working on a new design based on what he learned.

A few newer, ready-to-travel models stood in a line next to the storage container where Theo keeps thirty miles of plastic tubes for future use.


Beach ( Strand ) Walking

walk on the beach

During the summer of 2015 there will be beach sessions again.

The idea behind a beach session is that you witness my experiments on beach during the summer. I will tell about my work in a lecture (English) in the beach club.

And I will let the new beast walk on the soft sand using a kind of ski poles.

In the case that the wind is not too strong (lower than 30 km/h), not too low (faster than 20km/h) and more or less parallel to the coast, Animaris Duabus Caudis can walk on the wind on the hard sand.

But that can only happen under these particular wind conditions.

beach walk

What I see now, a lot of people seem to recognize what I do in their own imagination and follow me in my fairytale and become sort of partners or participants.

Obviously they don’t work with me but stand behind me, support me and really talk with me as if they are part of my project.

That of course is something for an artist is very nice when people seem to understand your work.


Theo on ” Trial and Error Evolution “



“At the end of my working day, I am almost always depressed.

Mine is not a straight path like an engineer’s, it’s not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials. A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that. But the solutions of engineers are often much alike, because human brains are much alike.

Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance. Reality is very creative. Maybe that is why the Strandbeests appear to be alive, and charm us.

The Strandbeests themselves have let me make them.


BBC 1 documentary

An episode of the BBC’s Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention offers a charming and detailed look at the mechanics of the labyrinth of tubes and armatures that are the guts of the Strandbeests.


The Great Pretender 2007


The title of this book is a way of saying that our daily life is nothing other than a show played out in our minds.

No creature on earth is better at pretending than we humans. We have a talent for creating a fantasy world. Luckily for us.

He who is unable to daydream becomes hopelessly depressed.

Our talent for simulating is so strong that we are even able to pretend that we exist. We simulate a first-person form, an ‘I’.

In The Great Pretender, kinetic artist Theo Jansen shows that the ‘I’ we envision is a tool in our evolution. We need this tool to be selfish. There can be no selfishness without the I-fantasy.

In redoing the Creation, so to speak, he hopes to become wiser in his dealings with the existing nature by encountering problems the Real Creator had to face.

The Great Pretender is a testimonial to his experiences as God.

It’s not easy being God; there are plenty of disappointments along the way.

But on the few occasions that things work out, being God is the most wonderful thing in the world.


StrandBeest(en) = Herds

strandbeests by theo jansen

theo jansen strandbeests (2)

Over the course of nearly 25 years of experimentation and development, these alternative life forms have expanded from rudimentary structures to complex creatures, interpreted further through 3D printed technology.

The herd is built according to genetical codes – it is a sort of race, and each and every animal is different, and the winning codes will multiply.

Entire herds on the beach will compete for being the fastest and more stable, and will transmit their DNA autonomously to following generations, already completely incorporated in their ecosystem.


In the future, the Dutch artist expects his creations to become more and more anatomically sophisticated: they will develop muscles, a nervous system, and some kind of brain allowing them to take complex decisions.

And some day, he hopes his beach creatures won’t need him to keep on evolving.

Eventually, Jansen hopes to ‘release’ his animals in herds where they can live out their own lives

theo jansen strandbeests (3)

Could they at some point keep evolving on their own ?

‘’It ought to be possible, it’s all a question of information, of code, of better and better code: the proper extension of muscles, better ways of striding forward or sensing danger. And I’ve been working out methods in my head, a sort of plug-and-socket configuration whereby the beests could transfer such genetic information by way of a long tube of memory laid out in binary format, inserted from one into the other, in such a way that it could then readjust ratios of one sort or another in the recipient.’’

‘’I’m not suggesting it wouldn’t be tricky. First of all, of course, a beest would have to be able to find and latch on to another of its own kind, then the two of them would have to decide which of them was the dominant, which they should be able to do by comparing their respective counter-recorders, and then the dominant would somehow need to insert his code — the information itself, not any sort of material packet — into the other.’’

‘’Of course there would be mistakes over the passage of time, but mistakes are a crucial part of evolution. The point is that over time, the herd would keep improving or at any rate rendering itself more fit to the changing environment, and doing so on its own.’’


theo jansen strandbeeests

He took to video-recording his beests as they paraded down the beach, often for minutes and hundreds of yards at a time, though sometimes the magnificently striding creatures would only barely make it out of the camera’s frame before they tripped over themselves and crumpled ignominiously.

His eyes widened at the memory: ‘’One has to admit, it was a marvelous sight.’’

The calibrations and recalibrations took years, across generation after generation of new beest types and fresh experiments at the shore.

‘’People talk about how beautiful my strandbeests are as they parade down the beach,‘’ he said. ‘’But you have to understand: I was never interested in beauty as such. I was interested in survival, so everything was based on a consideration of function, how to make the things function better. The fascinating thing, though, was that — here again, as with nature — the better the functioning, often, the more beautiful the result.”

‘’Right now the big task is still to fit the beests for sheer survival, if they are ever going to reproduce on their own, they are first going to have to be able to survive those autumn squalls.’’

For a while he’d been trying to contrive a barometric system whereby the beests could sense oncoming storms, readjust their positions, snout facing into the approaching front, then hammer an anchoring spike into the sand, but that system proved too unwieldy.

He was also working on an elaborate system of counterpoised pistons that allowed beests to reverse their course, should they approach either the sea on one side or the ‘’too fluffy’’ dry sand on the other, but that, too, was proving too heavy.

So, mind-doodling, he came up with an alternative scheme (flying buttress exoskeletons) that he is eager to refine next summer.

theo jansen 3

‘’I really think we’re going to make it, though, we’re almost there. All I need is another 20 years.

theo jansen strandbeests

Jansen set himself the arbitrary rule that he would not deploy any materials beyond PVC, rubber tubing, dacron sails, plastic bottles, string or cord-ties, and the like: no electronic timers or counters or engines — his was a sensibility pitched to a preference for the resolutely material in the face of the ever more relentlessly virtual.

Everything had to be re-conceived in terms of PVC, but that became possible when he understood that any given tube could be open or closed (bent or straightened).

Considered as such, as an ever more ingenious compounding sequence of binary nerve sensors that would function like logic gates or step counters, the system as a whole could begin to be seen, for all intents and purposes, as having a ‘’brain.’’

As the years passed, Jansen took to granting succeeding generations of his strandbeests elaborate Linnaean names: – Animaris Vulgaris, A. Speculator,  A. Currens Ventosa,  A. Sabulosa Adolescens,  A. Vaporis etc .

Not that progress was in any way direct or simple.

Jansen was growing less and less interested in the seemingly ever more distant goal of sand-shifting and dike-plugging and more and more captivated by the sheer marvel of the immediate evolutionary process playing out before him.

There were countless dead ends and haphazard detours. Some of them proved quite harrowing.

‘’Until I came up with the expedient of sealant and O-rings,’’ he told me at one point, ‘’the tube muscles exhibited all sorts of leakage and squishing, along with the occasional stray piston exploding out right past my head.’’

‘’Making life, let me tell you, is fraught with danger.’’ Nor is it necessarily a pretty sight.


Individual Animals ( Animaris )


Geologic Era’s

He divides his different generations of Strandbeests into time periods like geologic eras.

In the earliest period, he was taping the tubes together by winding adhesive tape around the extremities


I. Pregluten period 1986-1990:

pre gluten period

Theo begins toying with the idea of creating an artificial life form with virtual animals on his computer, and a great deal of dream-like introspection.

In the Pre-Gluten period Jansen contemplated the logistics of becoming God to a species of animal, and carefully considered the minute details


II. Gluten period 1990-1991: (the “tape” period)


After six months of contemplation, Jansen finds himself holding the plastic tubing that will be the dominant material for bringing his vision to life.

He decides to dedicate a year to exploring the possibilities enabled by the tubes…the dream becomes a reality with limitless potential.

The Gluten period spawned the Animaris Vulgaris – a plastic amoeba.


III. Chorda period 1991-1993:  (the “strap” period)

currens vulgarus

A new material for better movement allows the joints and legs of the Animaris Vulgaris to evolve into Currens Vulgaris.


IV. Calidum period 1993-1994: (the “hot” period)

Calidum period

Introduction of heat gun.  [Animaris Speculator]

The Calidum period was a huge step in development with the adaptation of wind sails for the Animaris Currens Ventosa.

The beests adapt to navigating in their sand environment.


V. Tepideem period 1994-1997: (the “less-hot” period)

The Tepideem periodJansen explores the “genes” of electrical tubing, the biological value of symmetry, and the dichotomy of pregnancy and death. [Animaris Ancora/Animaris Geneticae]

The creatures adopt symmetry and Jansen considers their own procreation.


VI. Lignatum period 1997-2001: (the “wood” period)

The Lignatum period

The Lignatum period gave birth to the Rhinoceros Transport using the new material of wood palates.

The palates radically changed the appearance of this species of sand animal.


VII. Vaporum period 2001-2006: (the “pneumonic” period)

The Vaporum period

The Vaporum period has seen many developments furthering the evolution of the strand beests including the Animaris Rugosus Peristhaltis

The engineering complexity of the Animaris is evident in this picture of the Animaris Vermiculus.

Animaris Vermiculus.


VIII. Cerebrum period 2006-present: (the “brains” period)

The Animari continue to evolve, providing solutions to surviving in their beach environments.

Mortuus Ventus

The towering Mortuus Ventus marches into the future.

Their herds move toward a future of complete independence

As of now, none of these technologies work very reliably.

Theo says he envies the original Creator’s supply of countless millions of years for animal evolution, and is sure he could make perfect beach animals, given that much time.

Generations of Strandbeests have been slowly roaming the Dutch coastline, powered by wind and armed with primitive logic which makes them move in reverse once they sense perilous water or loose sand.

Because of his progressive and inventive approach to art, Jansen has been called “a modern day da Vinci”.

theo-jansen beest models chart

As with any “life form”, each Strandbeest was assigned with its own “genetic code”, expressed in the piston-like structure (the muscles) of its legs and consequently in its walking pattern.

They are all self-propelling, meaning they can move autonomously by harnessing the wind. Without air they might be standing inert for a long time.

Well, the strange thing is that I don’t want to make something beautiful. When I work, I always work on function and it turns out when it’s finished, it usually doesn’t function that well but I surprise myself how beautiful it appears. There is sort of this secret artist in me which I’m not aware of secretly making beautiful things.


Animari Line 1

Anamris Verniculus

early anamris

The first animal that he is so constructed is the animaris vulgaris (vulgaris), the ordinary animal (animal) from the Sea (m).

The Animaris Vermiculus, worm animal, had 28 muslces, 14 nerves and some primitive brains for driving the musclesanimaris verniculus


Animaris Rhinozeros

rhinozerous museum piece

animaris rhinocerous (2)

His latest pieces can even carry passengers inside – the Animaris Rhinozeros, a two ton giant which can be moved just by one person, reaching those places where there’s no wind or sand, thanks to a clever system of impulse based on compressed air stored in soda bottles.


animaris rhinocerous (6)


Animari Line 2


Animaris Speculata


In fact this small beach animal isn’t a body, but I consider it like one because it will stay connected to its mother for his entire lifespan.

He works for his mother like a scout who is exploring the terrain. If it, for example, notices the sand is to dry making moving through it a waste of energy, it alerts his mother.

This larger animal can then pull out the Speculata if it had already gotten stuck in the dry sand, and together they can search a new direction to move

The Animarus Speculata worked with a wire in there and there was a lot of friction. Well, it didn’t work really well. So I stopped the process because I found better ways to feel the soft sand.

It would work a lot better now because the lungs, the wind stomach, plastic bubbles would be a lot better to feed the speculata.

It turns out that when the animals run into the soft sand, then the pressure goes up in the animal and you can do this quite easy with a big force that can be pulled out again.

These days, they are quite able to walk on soft sand as well, the dry sand.


Animaris Sabulosa


Animaris Sabulosa buries its nose in the sand to anchor itself when detecting the wind is too strong to be still standing.

The Animaris Sabulosa Cutis had a spoiler at the front that pushes its snout against the ground, fixing it there, as well as a skin of see-through adhesive tape coated with sand as camouflage

Animaris Sabulosa Cutis


Animaris Umeris

animaris umerius

Animaris Umerus


Animaris Siamesis

animaris siamesis (3)

This “beest” combines two “Umerus” that had existed previously.

The Siamesis is a twin animal, which is armed against strong winds. The two animals hold each other and prevent in this way being blown over.

It has the largest wind stomach until now, so it can save a lot of spare wind. Since the wind has been the friend and enemy of the Strandbeests, the Siamesis is a significant step in evolution.

animaris siamesis (4)

It weighs approximately 200kg and uses approx. 500 individual tubes. If all the tubes are joined end to end, the total length would be 2 km because the length of each piece is 4 m.

It also has 80 plastic bottles to store air, 1,500 cells and 72 legs.

When the wind blows, it spreads the wings to catch and save air in bottles which serves as energy. It uses this energy to move. It also has an antenna trailing on the sand to search water. As soon as it absorbs water, the valve closes and it moves away from the water.

The wing is made of anti-U.V. sheets to guard against sunshine. This material is a little expensive, so Theo is looking for other materials now that are lighter, stronger and cheaper

siamesis (2)

animaris siamesis (2)

animaris siamesis (1)



Animaris Geneticus

Geneticus Ondula beach animal, a mutatnt version of the Geneticus

‘’Making life, let me tell you, is fraught with danger. Nor is it necessarily a pretty sight.

‘’There was one occasion,’’ he said a few minutes later, ‘’when the wind picked up and a whole herd of Animari Genetici — the Genetici were the first to deploy in herds — all began rolling across the beach, sometimes rising and bouncing and tossing meters into the air, like so many tumbleweeds.’’


Animaris Ordis 2006


Primitive Strandbeest, only walks in the same direction as the wind.

Animaris Ordis walks under wind power, using a sail. It can also be pushed.

The walking unit for current Strandbeests

Wind driven smaller versions of the Geneticus linage


Animaris Turgentia 2014

animaris turgentina

Animaris Turgentia Vela is an evolution of Animaris Ordis

Strandbeest with billowing sails

animaris turgentia (4)

Connect two Ordises, and you have Animaris Turgentia Vela, about 7 feet tall and 10 feet long.

Strandbeest walking with quite low wind 6-7 knots ( 15 kmh )


Animaris Protinus 2013

animaris protinus

The Animaris Protinus is a twin animal.

Those two animals are completely different. Two beasts that hold each other so, they will not be blown over.

One is specialized in propulsion (many sails); the other is the bottle carrier and controls all the senses.

They are connected like a Siamese twin and live in symbiosis with each other.


Plaudens Vela 1

Plaudens Vela

Plaudens Vela can walk in the wind at low speeds and avoid tumbling over in high winds


It is the child from the Animaris Protinus.

One part of the twin is specialized in catching the wind. The other one caries the bottles and the senses.

animaris plaudens


Animaris Vaporis

Harnassed the wind by using wind catching propellors


Animaris Excelsus 2006

animaris excelsus

Wheel mechanism

One of the earlier versions of the Strandbeests, the Animais Excelsus was a tall animal with a wind tank stomach and hammer

When it was alive, Animaris Excelsus could exert a force a hundred times its weight.

Jansen has described it as “brains, wind-tank stomach, winch structure, and hammer, everything driven by a wheel mechanism” and calls it “the tall one” (it’s about 8 feet tall).

wind concept

When the nose is fixed — the whole animal is fixed.

So when the storm is coming up, it hammers a stake into the ground. And the nose is fixed, the whole animal is fixed. The wind may turn, but the animal will turn always its nose into the wind.

fixing design skecth

Theo was toting a long-handled wooden mallet of the sort usually associated with circus tents. Employing roundhouse overhead blows, he pounded metal stakes into the sand and tethered Strandbeests to them.

This was the same motions adopted by the newer Animaris to fix down against a wind storm

research practising

animaris excelcus


Animaris Adulari 2012

animaris adulari (2)

This is the first Strandbeest with sweat glands—water distributed by pressure through the beest’s joints, so sand won’t jam them.

Animaris Adulari can walk two ways: powered by wind or pushed by a human.

Its nose feelers can detect wet sand, letting the beest know that it’s near water.

animaris adulari (7)

This is one of the smaller beests (about 4 feet tall and 18 feet long).

It moves low to the ground and, according to Jansen, it looks “like herds of dogs on the beach.”

animaris adulari (1)

animaris adulari

two adulari


Animaris Apodiacula 2012


Evolutionary Highlights: Outrigger poles

Animaris Apodiacula was the first Strandbeest with effective outrigger poles, an evolutionary advancement that made larger beests more stable.

This feature allows a beest to move without toppling. Animaris Apodiacula no longer moves and is considered a fossil.

Its outrigger poles were passed down to Suspendisse

Animaris Apodiacula


Animaris Suspendisse 2014

animaris suspendisse

Wind stomachs and the ability to sense and walk away from the rising tide

The biggest Strandbeest to date at 12 feet in height, 17 meters/42 feet long

It is composed of several smaller Beests joined together, and with its many legs Animaris Suspendisse is somewhat insect-like in its motions.

Suspendisse is equipped to move on its own, using stored air.

Sails direct air into pistons, which in turn compress it into plastic bottles—Jansen calls these receptacles “wind stomachs.”

If the wind dies down on the beach, this beest can retreat from the rising tide under its own power.

I try to train the beast to survive storms. It survived gusts of 80 km/h.


Animaris Percipiere Primus

percipiere primus (3)

This drove Jansen to explore a way to store the wind in his seventh generation of artificial creatures, the Animaris Percipiere.

In fact, he created a stomach-like compartment, made of recycled plastic soda bottles, into which the air is collected and stored.

When a muscle lengthens, it opens a tap from which the air runs out making the skeleton to move. As long as there is air supply in the stomach, muscles keep moving by opening other taps, until the skeleton runs out of air.

This enables the Animaris Percipiere to walk for several minutes after the wind calms down.


amerius precipiere


Animaris Ancore  1997

Animaris Ancore

A wind propelled beest with a trailing anchor to both slow it down as well as to move the sand


Animaris Currens Ventosa

Animaris Currens Ventosa

Animaris Currens Ventosa 2


Animris Longus

animaris longus

Animaris Longus, was light and limber enough so that it appeared on the verge of trotting off at any moment on the breeze.

Theo laid this one on its side and staked it down.

It was a simple, elegant construction of triangular elements in a pyramidal shape supported by two groups of six legs on a central crankshaft.

Animaris Longus had no sails, but was light enough so that a wind could move it without them.

From a distance, it looked like one of those folding pole-and-clothesline contraptions you hang laundry on.

This Strandbeest stood there for a while, unnoticed. The shiny, wet sand held its reflection.


Animaris Gubernare  2011

Born in October 2010 died out in October 2011.

It has two external (rolling) wind stomachs which serve as an anchor against strong winds.

animaris gubernare

This one is a new design by Theo Jansen which takes into measure the air pumped in initially in those ‘stomach’ structures sticking outside the Strandbeest. Hence the air pressure drives the machine when the wind alone does not suffice.


On the Road

theo jansen container

On a blustery October afternoon, on a gently raised hill above Ypenburg, the Netherlands, roughly halfway between The Hague and Delft, the 66-year-old once-aspiring physicist Theo Jansen and several assistants busily prepared to launch an odd sort of species invasion.

theo jansen beest

In a few weeks, Jansen’s strandbeests — the huge self-propelled beach-striding contraptions that Jansen has spent the better part of the past quarter-century conceiving, evolving and constructing from out of ever more ambitious concatenations of lightweight yellow PVC tubing and spiny white sails — would be strutting their improbably lifelike stuff up and down Miami Beach at Art Basel, to the drop-jawed amazement of all.

But for the moment, Jansen had to carefully, with near-veterinary skill, slice and fold six of the wide-slung beests into two 40-foot-long shipping containers, so that they would survive the rigors of their Atlantic passage.


BMW Car commercial, 2006

Digital Fusion TIFF File

In 2006, Jansen made a television commercial for South African BMW, a “think piece,” that gave him a platform to record a sound bite on the idea of “innovation,” filmed against a rain-driven, moody beach.

He famously said in the BMW advertisement that his sculptures as “a fusion of art and engineering, since the walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds”.

chris fawcett

Theo sees himself as a mechanism through which these beasts evolve and develop, just as animals in nature do through reproduction.

“Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storm and water eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”


TED Talk California, 2007

Ted x Delft

In 2007 Theo was invited to California to present his ideas and work to TED.

The video of this presentation is an eighteen-minute odyssey through the mind of a contemporary classical European humanist posing as a technologist.

Jansen begins with a brief, eccentric explanation of the physics of creation.


Japanese Exhibition , 2011

Theo Jansen Exhibition: The Beach Animal That Eats Wind / Theo Jansen with Earthscape” 12 Sep 2011.

japan strandbeest

Japanese landscaper Eiki Danzuka collaborated with Dutch artist Theo Jansen.

Earthscape (Director, Eiki Danzuka) was responsible for total direction and arrangement of a “Theo Jansen Exhibition.”

theo jansen and Eiki Danzuka

theo jansen and Eiki Danzuka

The installation of Jansen’s works in the space captures both the natural setting of Oita and the Dutch landscape, and actively draws visitors in.

By installing various devices we created an exciting space — children entering immediately want to rush in and examine the installation.

jansen exhibit drawings 0

The StrandBeests traversed the oceans of the Netherlands to arrive in the forests of Oita.

Earthscape has added various features to the space using the earth itself: sand, driftwood, and flora from Scheveningen in the Netherlands, as well as pine cones collected in Oita.

The exhibition has been structured into three zones: “sea,” “life,” and “forest,” allowing visitors to vicariously experience the evolution of the Strandbeesten.

Just as the natural scenery of faraway Holland and Oita are connected by horizons, so are all living things connected.

To express these “lines” of connection, we have inscribed various information such as words, photographs, and images between the show’s entrance and exit, at a height of 145 cm (the eye-level of a Japanese person).


A pack of Strandbeest come from the sea into the forest.

They live by eating wind on the beach, and over the years undergo various evolutions.

The forest and the sea share a connection as a single life form.

The forest acts as a natural dam to protect against river flooding and droughts, and brings nutrients to the sea to help its phytoplankton and marine algae grow, and its fish prosper.

Without the beautiful forest, the beautiful sea cannot exist.

Just as humans evolved from the ocean, the Strandbeest, too, may leave their beach and begin an evolution into the forest.

How will they choose to express themselves in Oita, home to both luscious oceans and forests ?


This exhibition is composed of three zones: Sea, Life, and Forest.


Sea is a place where you can sense the beach and the wind.

It is a zone where those Strandbeest who became extinct during the course of evolution stay.

A bed of white sand has been installed on one side of the exhibition space, displayed alongside seashells, driftwood, and flora from the beaches of Scheveningen.

Life is a zone where visitors learn about the process of making Strandbeest, and where children blow life into Strandbeest through straws (plastic tubes).


Forest is a zone where you can watch the Strandbeest move, with the forest of the Ueno Hills in the background.

Pine cones, tree branches, and bamboo have been carried in from the forests of Oita, and the StrandBeesten begin their journey to the forests of Ueno.


Horizon – Landscape Connecting the Sea to the Forest – We drew a line, about eye-level, on the wall.

The line appears in the space in various forms; at times as text, at times as the outline of a landscape, and at times as the level of water.

The line presents many kinds of information, including information on the Strandbeest, the wind and forest, and the nature of Oita and the Netherlands.

It indicates the horizon of Beppu Bay that would otherwise be visible from this location, and hints at the horizon of the Netherlands, connecting even further beyond…

Through the Strandbeest, we invite the viewer to feel the connection between life and nature


Federation Square, Melbourne 2012

fed square 4

A gigantic, graceful kinetic sculpture by Dutch artist, Theo Jansen roamed Fed Square for the month of February in 2012.

Fed Square’s Creative Program presented the Australian premiere of the colossal sculpture, which has visited Austria, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the UK.

Approximately twelve metres long, four metres high and two metres wide with wing-like sails, the wind-walking Strandbeest could easily be mistaken for a prehistoric mammoth skeleton.

While the fully constructed Strandbeest took over The Square, a display of eight Strandbeest ‘fossils’ were hosted in The Atrium Fracture Gallery


Electric Turbine Hall,  The Hague, Holland,  2014

generator strandbeest turbine hall


The turbine hall has a huge industrial raw environment (40×60 meter and 38 meter high) to present a production in a factory option monumental work sober and clear: a laboratory, an archive and a production line.

electric factory hague

Theo and his team of volunteers , placed seven beach animals, some of which may be moved.

He showed his latestBeest : Animaris Suspendisse (10 x 4 meters and 4 meters high).

He is now working on this animal to get it ready for the beach trials after the exhibition in mid-May.

A vast sand layer forms the workplace to try the new beast.

On the first floor is a historical overview of the evolution and the making of the animals.

It is a palaeontological field with fossils.

Film, photographs and video footage will explain the genesis.

theo at the turbine hall


Art Basel Miam2014


The Strandbeest (beach animals) made their American debut on the Miami Beach oceanfront during the Art Basel Fair thanks to the collaboration between Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet and the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.

dream machines book (1)

Jansen presented six of his dream machines alongside an exhibition dedicated to his process and creative thinking, debuting the monumental, 42-foot-long Monuanimaris Suspendisse.

“Miami was a continuation of the experiments I did on the beach at home, the benefit of such is that I continued to learn things.”

The beachside presentation featured six of Jansen’s newest Strandbeests, including

  • the debut of the 42-foot-long Animaris Suspendisse ;
  • fossils from the artist’s past creations;
  • an exhibition of photographs by Lena Herzog, who has been documenting Jansen’s activities over the past six years for a new Taschen book;
  • and miniature, 3-D printed beests, ready for purchase.


strandbeest miami art basel


Book >> StrandBeest – The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen

by Lena Herzog

dream machines book (1)

The Taschen book on the work of the Dutch artist is presented around the question  — Are the works by Jansen, a new life-form in its own right ?

Lena Herzog’s photographic tribute captures Theo Jansen’s menagerie in a meditative black and white, showcasing Jansen’s imaginative vision, as well as the compelling intersection of animate and inanimate in his creatures.

The result is a work of art in its own right and a mesmerizing encounter not only with a very surrealist brand of marvelous, but also with whole new ideas of existence.

lena herzog

lena herzog

For the past nine years, photographer and artist Herzog has followed the evolution of a new, kinetic species.

“I dropped by Theo’s laboratory in the off season,” Lena Herzog recalled the first time she met Jansen, in 2005.

“A new beast was still evolving, a few ‘fossils’ of the old dead ones were strewn around in the grass, and many beautiful ideas were laid out on the fence.”

She returned to the North Sea coast of Holland to see the creatures walk, and in 2007, began photographing Jansen and the Strandbeests

Theo Jansen, Artist, The Hague and Lena Herzog, Photographer, Los Angeles, in conversation with Trevor Smith, Curator of Contemporary Art at Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusets

As if it were blood, not the breeze, running through their delicate forms, they quiver, cavort, and trot against the sun and sea, pausing to change direction if they sense loose sand or water that might destabilize their movement.

theo jansen 5

Herzog discovered that …. ” Theo could make an optimist out of a Russian and that the StrandBeests make you think and they make you dream. In this disenchanted world, they re-enchant you, not in a falsely sweet or obvious way but in a special form of enchantment. I have even seen dogs go wild and horses balk at the sight of the Strandbeests.”

“What more could you possibly ask of a work of art ?”

Coinciding with a travelling exhibition, Herzog’s photographic tribute captures Jansen’s menagerie in a meditative black and white, showcasing Jansen’s imaginative vision, as well as the compelling intersection of animate and inanimate in his creatures.

The result is a work of art in its own right and a mesmerizing encounter not only with a very surrealist brand of marvelous, but also with whole new ideas of existence/

Photograph by Lena Herzog


Mini Beasts


“The Strandbeests multiply through a 3-D printer,” Jansen stated

“These animals are printed around the world so they are really reproducing. You can also combine those animals in a kind of sexual evolution, which is going out of hand ; and all of these people that are building these baby Strandbeests think they are having a good time, but in fact they used for the reproduction process.”


No assembly is required, and the fully articulated structural systems are ready to move as soon as they come out of the printer.

You can also purchase a 3D-printed wind propulsion add-on that allows the mini-beests to move by themselves.

Theo Jansen, in collaboration with on demand 3D printer Shapeways, has two models available for purchase.


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