Faster Horses and Modern Methods of Construction


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

Sometimes it is hard to imagine something until it is seen and experienced. This likely is what prompted the great Henry Ford to utter those famous words about ‘faster horses’ over a century ago. The image above illustrates, however, how new ways of doing things can be quickly adopted once the benefits are clear and the new solution is readily accessible. The image on the left was taken in 1900 and, if you look closely, you can see one motorcar amongst the heavy traffic of horses on New York City’s 5th Avenue. Roll the clock forward thirteen short years and the situation is totally reversed. The image on the right was taken in 1913 and, if you look closely, you can see one horse among the heavy traffic of motorcars. A new way had been adopted by the masses.

The Adoption of Innovation

In the early years following the introduction of the first motorcars, it was only a small group of consumers who adopted the new mode of transport. This was not only because motorcars were not readily accessible to many, and few had the financial resources available to invest, but also due to the open mindset of a small and important group of consumers. Throughout history, any innovation ever introduced needed ‘innovators’, people who were willing to take a risk and try something new for the first time. In this case, people who left their horse at home and opted for the new mode of transport.

When the ‘new way’ passes early testing by these innovative consumers, and they spread the word, others come onboard. Eventually the innovation reaches a tipping point and becomes the new way for the majority. In academic circles, and in a diffusion of innovations context, this is closely related to the ‘Product Life Cycle’ concept. The time it takes a product to go from introduction to decline may vary, but the principle tends to hold true. Old ways are replaced by the new and are adopted by the masses when the new way makes common sense.

What Do Horses and Construction Have in Common?

Before the introduction of the motorcar, every improvement possible had been extracted from the then current mode of transport. They even discovered that what you fed your horse could affect its performance. But whatever you feed a horse; you will never turn it into a motorcar.

For a hundred years or so, one could argue there has been only incremental, as opposed to disruptive, innovation in the construction industry. Some changes have taken place alright. There is the use of modelling technology in the building’s design, a sharper focus on sustainability and a dramatic improvement around onsite health and safety. All welcomed improvements for sure.

However, for the most part, methods of construction and fit-out have not changed that much. They still involve labour-intensive activity onsite, brick-by-brick. Or in the case of the building’s fit-out (electrical in particular), electricians bringing to site reels of cable where they cut, strip, and terminate each electrical point by hand.

Modular and offsite manufacturing, otherwise known as ‘modern methods of construction’, have introduced a new (and better) way of working. Instead of buildings being built brick-by-brick on construction sites, with poor lighting and at times inclement weather, buildings are now being constructed in controlled factory environments. Labour intensive, manual tasks have been replaced by scheduled production processes. Human error replaced by rigorous factory testing.

Parallel processing means project tasks can be conducted simultaneously, speeding up the project delivery. This goes for the building’s internal fit-out as well as the structure itself. Modular, plug-and-play electrical systems are now built in audited factories using calibrated machines and certified processes. This leads to higher quality and greater flexibility, as well as less waste and fewer people being needed onsite. Simply put modular is better, quicker, and more sustainable.

For the last decade or so, modern methods of construction have been tried and tested by innovators who have been enjoying the benefits. As more adopt the new way, we will inevitably reach a tipping point. Old ways are being replaced by the new and will soon be adopted by the masses. And why? Because it makes common sense.

Traditional construction methods are the horse. Modern methods of construction, the motorcar.

(Photo: George Brantham Collection, 5th Avenue; NYC, Easter Parade 1900/1913)

At Modula, being innovative and delivering efficiencies to client projects is what we do. We specialise in the offsite manufacturing of modular wiring systems that deliver value and are more sustainable. Why not talk to us today about your next project’s needs by emailing or phone +353 (1) 455 9472.

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