Nerds and nerdettes, you’re not going to want to miss today’s post. Our family personally met a famous artist/engineer in his studio on our recent BeNeLux trip! Keep reading for the low down on our encounter with these beach creatures.
In one of those serendipitous travel research moments, my wife stumbled upon a small detail hidden in a random corner of the Dutch shoreline near The Hague. “Theo Jansen Beach” it said. Thinking it might be some kind of famous surfer bar, she googled it, but found something much more amazing than booze instead. Take a look at the 2 minute video below.
Amazing, fascinating, freakish, right? If you’re like me, you want to see these things in action. Unfortunately, Theo Jansen didn’t have any work on the beach at the time of our trip to Holland (to find out where the beasts are, look here).
BUT, we found out from his website that anyone can visit his studio near The Hague at anytime. No need for a wild goose chase in the Dutch countryside; the property is right off a major highway.
Theo Jansen’s workshop is atop a small hill on the side of the road (no parking, just ditch the car on the shoulder and walk up). Just between you and me, trust me when I say that calling it a “workshop” is kinda pushing it. The building is little more than a shack to keep Theo protected from the elements when working, and it’s piled high with projects and a case of instant soup envelopes.
This guy developed a formula for creating “new life” as he says, forms that are able to walk across the beach on their own. A wall next to the shack contains explanations regarding the proportions and walking motion. Several creatures greet visitors, inviting the interested to physically experience the creatures.
This walking motion and the particular proportions proved to be the two key elements to creating the beasts. Each animal has a center shaft where all the feet connect in an offset manner. Wind powers the beasts’ movements depending on the intensity of the gusts. Theo is now creating a process by which this wind energy can be stored in bottles so the beasts can walk even when the weather is calm.
Theo Jansen’s ultimate goal is to create a beast that can exist completely independent of human help. He literally believes he is creating a new species of life..
Wanting to see these engineering wonders for ourselves, we gambled that Theo would be at his studio on the day we passed through. The odds were in our favor, and Mr. Jansen happily greeted us when we knocked on the shack door.
The studio is littered with PVC pipe, the color of Dutch cheese. As Theo explained, these tubes are then bent, drilled, and heated to his specifications. Large sheets catch the wind, and recycled soda bottles capture it.
T-Rex was gaga over all the tools in the workshop, and the two of them even chatted a bit in German and English about the gadgets and gizmos lying around.
Theo really enjoyed seeing the boys faces light up as their eyes followed the movement of a tiny beast across a table. This particular teeny tiny beast had been 3-D printed and sent to Jansen by a student which is quite impressive considering the large number of moving parts needed to make the thing work.
Instead of being outraged that others are printing his work, Theo is delighted. In fact, he considers this the method of beast reproduction. These clever creatures use humans to multiply their species.
After seeing the little ones in Theo’s workshop I must admit I really want one (Father’s Day – hint, hint!). Apparently, I have good company in my admiration for these marvels. Adam Savage has also developed quite an affinity for them.
Outside the workshop, we tested some beasts with our own hands. From pushing and pulling a few little guys around the hilltop, I can only imagine what the full-scale beasts look like in person scurrying along the sand and splashing in the waves.
I wished we could have stayed and talked the genius Jansen’s ear off, but T-Rex was cold, Screech wanted a snack, and we couldn’t push our luck with a sleeping Big Foot.
Would I go visit Theo Jansen’s studio again? You betcha. I hope Mr. Jansen is still around when my boys are old enough to understand the engineering and design principles behind these creations. Science + Art = always a winner in our traveling family’s book!