The “Strandbeest: the Dream Machines of Theo Jansen” exhibit was the first major American exhibition of these creations. Before it closed, I was fortunate enough to see one of Jansen’s strandbeests take a few steps in the Peabody Essex Museum. Jansen trained and educated the museum staff, who then gave a demonstration to explain how the beests were made and what enabled them to walk. Instead of keeping the strandbeests a trade secret, Jansen wants people to build their own and pass on the knowledge of these creatures of sails, plastic bottles and PVC tubing.
In their natural Netherlands habitat, they get their energy from the winds on the beach. Inside the museum, they rely on compressed air in plastic bottles that are attached to them, or people pushing them. They’ve evolved from being completely dependent on people to being somewhat independent, almost taking on lives of their own. Jansen’s dream is to have herds of them on the Dutch beaches, living their lives without human intervention. And with the advancements he’s made, they probably could. For example, special tubes are set up to tell the brain of the strandbeest when it’s too close to water. Now, that is engineering for you.
Besides the Animaris Suspendisse, the strandbeest used for the demonstration, the PEM had smaller beests that visitors could push themselves, as well as some out-of-commision beests and fossils of beests long gone. Schematics and sketches of beest designs were displayed to give a better understanding of how they moved, as well as some interactive areas where you could turn something or pump something to see how it really worked on the beest’s body. Not only did they show the individual parts of the beests, but they also had a display of black-and-white photographs by Lena Herzog of the beests in their natural habitat. And, last but not least, they showed the effect Jansen’s work made with a display of strandbeests that other people built, including a strandbeest moped and a lego ship. So, if you’re interested in helping strandbeests live long and prosper, visit Jansen’s website, find a schematic and make your own!