Beach Walker

One of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest constructions

Beach Walker (video 2:57) – Theo Jansen’s strutting sculptures achieve astonishingly lifelike movement at Art Basel on Miami Beach.

“The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” —Theo Jansen

Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist. In 1990, he began what he is known for today: building large mechanisms out of PVC that are able to move on their own, known only as Strandbeest. His works are a fusion of art and engineering.

  • PVC tubing – Since 1947 Dutch law has decreed that this strandbeest-yellow-tube be used to conduct electricity cables in houses. So it is very cheap.
  • leg system – In the middle of each beach animal is a kind of spine, more specifically a crankshaft. The remarkable thing about this spine is that it can rotate. This rotation is converted by 11 small rods into a walking movement.
  • equipped with their own artificial intelligence, his creations can avoid obstacles by changing course
Beach walker – animation

What’s the problem?
The Jansen’s linkage is a leg mechanism designed by the kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen to simulate a smooth walking motion. Jansen has used his mechanism in a variety of kinetic sculptures which are known as Strandbeests.

  • Ask – Using just PVC tubing and some connections, how can the Strandbeests be made to “walk” down a beach?
  • Imagine – What are some of the basic components of the motion of walking? How could this be replicated with a simple mechanical structure? Jansen came up with an ingenious simulation of walking motion using a simple rotary input. He built a model from plywood to illustrate the actions of the components.
  • Design, Build – Using PVC tubing, Jasen created the huge Strandbeests based on the simple mechanism he devised.
  • Improve – Jansen has built and displayed many of his Strandbeests. Each is a bit different but relies on the same basic walking structure.

That’s engineering

  • crankshaft

Engineering ideas

  • rotation, crankshaft

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • build your own Strandbeest model. Use the information for the leg proportions in the diagram as a guide to build your first model. Then try to improve on that.