This summer we're tinkering with mechanical motion in the Tinkering Studio, inspired by the new exhibition Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen.
The Strandbeests are inspiring mechanical marvels made from PVC tubing and other materials that transform into lifelike beings when they start moving in the wind. Theo has been working on his creations for more than 20 years, and he is still learning about them as he brings each new one to "life". Every part of the Strandbeests - the wings, legs, bodies, and other parts, go through hundreds of iterations in order for Theo to understand how they work so he can out them to use. All of these parts continue to evolve as he follows his meandering, iterative process.
Theo says: “Mine is not a straight path like an engineer’s, it’s not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials….Always I have a new plan, but then it is corrected by the requirements of the tubes. They dictate to me what to do.”
The process of iteration is important to tinkering, and critical to supporting thinking and learning while tinkering. Exploring a variety of ways to build and refine an idea over time is an important part of the process. Working on iterations provides an opportunity for learning to deepen, and often lead to unexpected new perspectives, and a variety of outcomes.
Ideas and thoughts develop slowly, so do new new questions, observations, and experimental outcomes. Step-by-step kits, or projects where the outcome is already known (or predictable) are less impactful for someone developing a deep understanding of why things work the way they do. Iteration supports the ability to model the ways that new questions can lead to new discoveries.
We’ll be exploring linkages in the Tinkering Studio, and iterating on a few designs that are similar to the legs of the beests http://www.strandbeest.com/beests_leg.php .
The activities that we are experimenting with this summer continue to evolve as we play with them. The feedback that we get from visitors (and many others that are online, exploring similar activities and materials) will inform our next set of designs, and our next iteration of this activity.
Supporting iteration is something we design for in the Tinkering Studio. We have been iterating with linkages using cardboard, wood, familiar materials, and more recently we have been utilizing LEGO. In each case we are asking ourselves if the activity, tools, and materials allows us to tinker in a way that allows everyone to build new ideas over time, and continue to iterate on new designs as a way to test new ideas.
We hope you can visit the Strandbeest exhibit, and we encourage you to stop by the Tinkering Studio and tinker with us!
Tinker with Mechanical Motion:
May 28–September 4, 2016
Saturdays and Sundays 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Experiment with linkages, automata, plus a variety of mechanisms and materials to create your own mechanical marvels.
Tinkering Studio workshops are available on a first-come, first-served drop-in basis. Space and materials are limited.
Experience Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Exploratorium from May 27 to September 5, 2016. Jansen’s strandbeests—“beach animals” in Dutch—are enormous, self-propelling kinetic creations. Constructed largely of PVC tubing and other hardware store materials, strandbeests are mesmerizing in their motions and eerily lifelike. Equipped with sensory organs and ever-evolving survival strategies, they walk a wandering, wind-blown line between art and engineering, mechanics and biology.
This blog post is part of a series of Tinkering Studio posts highlighting a variety of ideas during the National Week of Making. weekofmaking.org