Strandbeest by Theo Jansen (1990-Present)

Theo Jansen and a Strandbeest. (Photo: Loek van der Klis, https://www.flickr.com/photos/50964344@N08/10594194254/in/photostream/)

Jansen’s Strandbeesten grew out of an interest in designing living and autonomous organisms with software. The original ratios for the legs were calculated on an Atari running a month-long evolutionary algorithm. I chose this project because it accomplishes the rare feat of connecting technology to the physical world in a beautiful and functional way.

Illustration of Strandbeest leg design. Ratios were calculated with an evolutionary algorithm.
Strandbeast in action on the beach. There are many different varieties.

Over the past few decades, the artist has created (“evolved”) contraptions capable of propelling themselves with wind, storing energy, detecting and avoiding water, and briefly surviving harsh conditions with simple and robust materials. He employs volunteers or assistants to transport, document, restore, and exhibit his creatures, but generally he works by himself.

“Is this science or garbage?” Homer Simpson. Season 28, Episode 10.

Jansen was inspired to begin this project to investigate the fundamentals of life after reading “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins, a book that explains how the complexity of life emerged from random mutation. The artist sees himself as a pretend God that is evolving creatures over a short period of time or as someone infected by a virus that reproduces through him (and others via 3D printing plans available online). However, the evolution of this work is limited to advances concocted by Jansen or his computational techniques. It would be interesting to see a version of this system that invited participation from other creators and utilized easily reconfigurable materials (think Legos). A combination of network effects and speed could lead to emergent qualities and facilitate Jansen’s goal of artificial creatures that could survive on their own.  

Family tree of Strandbeest evolution. (Source: https://www.exploratorium.edu/strandbeest/meet-the-beests)

Official site: https://www.strandbeest.com/

3D printing plans: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/theojansen


Engelen, John. “Strandbeests by Theo Jansen.” De De Ce Blog. April 13, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2019. http://www.dedeceblog.com/2015/04/13/strandbeests-by-theo-jansen/.

Vicente, J. L. de. “Theo Jansen.” ArtFutura. 2005. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.artfutura.org/v3/en/theo-jansen/.

Weschler, Lawrence. “Theo Jansen’s Lumbering Life-Forms Arrive in America.” The New York Times Magazine. November 26, 2014. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/magazine/theo-jansens-lumbering-life-forms-arrive-in-america.html.