Theo Jansen's Supernatural Strandbeests Invade San Francisco's Beaches

These wind-powered mechanical wildebeests are crazy to watch.

Flickr / Robbert van den Beld

There’s a new species washing up on San Francisco’s beaches. Surprisingly, it’s neither an invasive species nor another wave of gentrifiers. It’s Strandbeest, a herd of wind-powered sculptures created by the Dutch artist Theo Jansen for the express purpose of promenading along open beaches. Some can even detect and avoid the water.

A college dropout, Jansen has a background in both physics and art. He’s been playing God for the last 26 or so years, crafting Strandbeests out of PVC, attempting to perfect various creaturely forms.

Jansen first figured out how to make these things walk on their own, and began pulling them around beaches by himself. Then he added wings so they could traverse open sand on their own — with some supervision, of course. He’s since made them even more complex. On some, he added wind-storing stomachs that can maintain propulsion when the wind dies down, and he’s attempting to bequeath unto his many-legged children some intelligence. That way, they can be fully independent, and, he says, live on after his death.

For the San Francisco installation, Jansen partnered up with San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Beginning today, and until September 5, the Strandbeests will reside at the Exploratorium.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that there would be walking tours with Jansen and the Strandbeests. The Strandbeests will only be on display at the Exploratorium.

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