Making the long tail work: reflections on the development of the construction industry the past 25 years

Christian Langhoff Thuesen, Jens Stissing Jensen, Stefan Christoffer Gottlieb

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    The paper discusses the development and impact of construction research the past 25 years. Theoretically, the paper builds on two fundamental insights: The Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule) and the Thomas theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (Thomas and Thomas 1928: 572) - a fundamental sociological principle. The Pareto principle is applied using the concept “The long tail” (Anderson 2006). Based on “the long tail” the three different production paradigms of mass production, mass customisation, and individual customisation are identified. The paper argues that construction in the 1950s and 1960s was driven by a “mass production” paradigm that from the beginning of the 1980s was replaced by an “individual customisation” paradigm in which construction became a matter of tailoring unique buildings to each customer. These two different paradigms have been driven by two more or less unarticulated myths. In the 1960s buildings were viewed as standardised while they from the 1980s onwards have been viewed as unique. Based on the Thomas theorem it is argued that these myths have had a substantial impact on the way we build. Consequently, today’s predominant view of buildings – as unique – implies that: 1) the nature of the construction processes is chaotic, 2) the buildings are realised through onsite project work rather than through offsite production; and 3) project management is the fundamental management principle. The paper further identifies how attempts to develop new construction practices like partnering and lean implicitly reproduce this myth. The result is that construction research the past 25 years has been constructing the long tail in a way that hinders radical development of the construction industry. The paper concludes that if we allow ourselves to view buildings as both unique but also as standardised we can create a new platform for developing the construction industry – a Mass Customisation paradigm.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings 25th Annual ARCOM Conference : 7-9 September 2009
    EditorsA. Dainty
    Place of PublicationNottingham, UK
    PublisherAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management
    Publication date2009
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    EventARCOM - Nottingham, UK
    Duration: 1 Jan 2009 → …
    Conference number: 25


    CityNottingham, UK
    Period01/01/2009 → …


    • industrialisation
    • customisation
    • long tail


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