Understanding Construction as a Complex and Dynamic System: An Adaptive Network Approach

Ruben Vrijhoef1 & Michael K.L. Tong2

1Doctorate candidate, Centre for Process Innovation in Building and Construction, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, E-mail [email protected]; Research consultant, TNO Building and Construction Research, The Netherlands
2Doctorate candidate, School of the Built and Natural Environment, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, UK, E-mail [email protected]


Construction can be characterised as a specific type of project industry, with specific features concerning the production, such as temporality, bounded location, and one-off products. The industry can be analogised as a nexus from which parties connect in temporary "project networks" bringing together numerous production factors needed for specific projects. In this paper, construction is viewed from an adaptive network perspective, bringing together various conceptual angles. The adaptive network approach is based on the emergence of flexible patterns in a quasi-structured manner. It attempts to assist in the control of fixed patterns whilst relying on self-regulation, which, in practice, often leads to chaos. In a construction environment, which differs from that of manufacturing, production systems need to be adaptive to changes from both inside and outside of the system, but need to reduce the inherent risk of chaos caused by the unstable nature of the production environment of construction. The management challenge for these types of production environments is to balance between a minimum level of predictability and controllability with a maximum level of flexibility and emergence. The adaptive network approach is discussed to be an appropriate model for the effective management of construction projects.


Adaptive network approach, construction, emergence, complexity, industrial dynamics



Vrijhoef, R. & Tong, M. K. 2004. Understanding Construction as a Complex and Dynamic System: An Adaptive Network Approach, 12th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , -. doi.org/

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