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How and with what would fairies build their houses? They need them because of the ridiculous number and variety of predators targeting them and the unforgiving weather. However, I don’t know with what they would build them, and how anything that they build would hold up. Their houses need to have roofs and possibly doors. There is very little magic in my world, and the weak magic that fairies have access to couldn’t help them.

I have multiple different strains of fairies (one lives in a desert, one in a forest, one underground in caves, and one underwater), however the only strains I’m worried about are desert and forest. Desert fairies are (on average) 2 1/2 inches tall and forest fairies are (on average) 4 inches tall.

My fairies have very poor memory, but other than that, their intelligence is very close to a human’s. Their tech level is very primitive except for a few that live in human towns and cities. They’re omnivorous and their predators are basically anything that’ll eat mice and/or bugs. They are very weak and have the endurance of a hummingbird. They are also diurnal. They can fly, however not for very long, but they can fly pretty high. They can also hover.

I should probably also mention the weather... the climate is very cold, so their nests/houses need insulation, and lots of it. It also rains often, and it’s pretty windy, too.

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  • $\begingroup$ What size, mass, strength, endurance, intelligence, tech-level, are your fairies? Do they live in a forest, city, jungle, desert? What do they eat? What are their natural predators? Are intelligent beings also in the area? Please realize that you need to ask specific questions. Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum and per our help center, "Questions must be specific as well as answerable. If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 2, 2020 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ That’s difficult to answer... I have multiple strains of fairies. One strain lives in a desert, one in a forest, one underground (in caves), and one underwater. They are all mammals, they are rather weak, and the largest is around 4 inches tall, the smallest is 2 1/2 inches tall. They are omnivorous and the meat that they eat is mostly insects, spiders, etc. They have intelligence similar to a human, however they have very weak memory. A close idea of their preydators is, that if it eats bugs or mice, it probably eats them (fish eat the underwater strain). $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2020 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and their teck level. They are very primitive. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2020 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ Let me restate that- some fairies choose to live with humans because it’s safer than being out in the wild. Those fairies have a higher tech-level. However, I already have these human-dwelling fairy’s architecture covered. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2020 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ Each group of fairies living in a different area (desert, forest, etc.) will use different materials to build homes and build those homes in different ways and locations. Please pick just one to focus on. The information about their habits, technology, skills, and physiology is very useful. Please edit your question to add all these things, after which I'll gladly retract my close vote. (That issue about a weak memory is very important and a great thing to know about your fairies.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 2, 2020 at 2:37

12 Answers 12

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Mud.

mud dauber nest

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/WASPS/Sceliphron_caementarium.htm

Mud is a fine building material. It is available everywhere. Depicted - elegant mud dauber wasp nests. If wasps can build this so can your fairies. Some wasps bring dry vegetation into their nests. They don't eat it, so maybe it is for insulation? That would work for fairies in cold climates also - line the mud nest with grass, fluff and scavenged fur.

Mud is a fine building material for human dwellings too.

mud huts

https://www.designcauseinc.org/single-post/2016/05/31/Construction-and-Cultural-Significance-of-Mud-Huts-1

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a very practical answer. I would add that you could add structural support to the structure by using a woven layer of reeds. You could make almost basket like structures and seal them with mud. This, albeit scaled up is the basis for wattle and daub architecture. $\endgroup$
    – Redbud201
    Sep 2, 2020 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Very practical. And it really subverts the "neat and prissy fairy" stereotype. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Sep 2, 2020 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ For a visual of what a fairy's mud city might look like, google "cliff swallow colony" $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Sep 3, 2022 at 1:56
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Anything involving the use of fire becomes intrinsically harder for smaller animals because small fires burn out faster than big ones, and small kilns dissipate heat faster and can't get as hot. This makes the production of many primitive materials like bricks, quicklime cement, and metal tools far harder for your fairies to achieve even if they were just as smart as humans.

Likewise, a small home made from thin walls will heat up/cool down much faster than a human scale home which would be a problem, especially for your desert fairies.

You also need to consider that many of their predators are much bigger and stronger compared to them than human predators are to us. So a house made from twigs or tiny stacked rocks could just be torn apart by a large bird, raccoon, etc.

So, to have a home that is strong enough to resist giant predators and insulated enough to resist weather, and simple enough for tiny primitive humanoids to build, your best option would be burrowing into something rather than building it from scratch. Since your fairies can fly, burrowing into something up high would be best to prevent ground predators from getting you. This could involve hollowing out a tree or cactus kind of like a woodpecker nest, or if you find a nice steep flat cliffside, that could be even better since it would keep certain tree climbing predators like snakes out too. Something like an old human quarry, coastal cliffs, or canyon wall would be ideal.

Humans have designed communities that are already a lot like this, in your case you just do it smaller and without any need for direct ground access.

enter image description here

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Despite not being very strong, the intelligence of your fairies should allow them to "punch above their weight" when it comes to other animals, utilizing superior tactics, tools, and strategy like humans do. With the capability to kill larger creatures, fairies could take over prepared homes from other species. For example:

  • Kill a cavity-nesting bird like a woodpecker or an owl and take over their home (trees, cacti, etc)
  • Kill a burrowing creature like a rabbit or groundhog and take over their home (already well-protected)
  • Kill a swarm of hive-building insects like wasps and take over their home (Use hive building material)

Alternatively, your fairies could attempt to reach symbiosis with another creature or domesticate the creature

  • A fairy might provide a service to insect hives and be allowed to live in a beehive (where it's warm and there's food)
  • A fairy might live on a large mammal like a bear, providing a service in exchange for it's protection and body heat/fur in the cold
  • A fairy might live with humans performing tasks that require fine dexterity in exchange for shelter/food/etc
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Woven Nests

I'm going to put this answer here mostly because I like the way they look.

We can look to the weaver bird for inspiration.

enter image description here

It could be built up like a bird's nest with their tiny dexterous hands. with some added fluff, I imagine it could be quite cozy. If you need more of a roof over your head, you can add some mud or layered leaves to shed rain.

A small opening would make it easy to defend. And you could link these little pods together and have a much larger communal nest, where combined body heat would help keep things warm. Certain types of communal weaver bird colonies can cover a most of a tree, looking like a mass of nest material hanging from the limbs dotted with hole openings.

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Well if the fairies have almost human intelligence, then perhaps they could build something out of baked clay or use something similar to clay and use it as a cement of sorts?

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Dragongeek spoke about them killing or domesticating some animal that already build nests. You can google for a bird called "hornero" that builds spherical mud houses. It's found in South America. Maybe your fairies can occupy those houses, domesticate the birds or replicate the building method... This is the bird and its house

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The faeries don't build houses, they steal the houses of other animals (nest, burrows, hollowed out trees, etc). But perhaps instead of killing the local wildlife to inhabit their homes the fairies could domesticate them instead. Birds would be most optimal for this since their homes tend to be higher up, where the fairies can reach on their own, and further away from predators. They have no need to build their homes because they'll have other creatures building them for them instead. It's up to you whether the fairy completely take over and either kill the birds or simply inhabit the homes and ignore the birds. But if the intelligence level of the fairies isn't high enough, or they have no upper hand in order to coheres, control or kill these creatures, then they could work together with some creatures in more of a symbiotic relationship in which they are the subjugated ones.

The strange relationship between a certain species of spiders and frogs come to mind with this, specifically the Microhylid frog and certain species of Tarantula (I can't find the specific species for this, there are also other species that are seen in these relationships that I haven't added here).

enter image description here

It should be noted that these young spiders have been observed grabbing these frogs before releasing them still alive presumably because they didn't like how they tasted. These frogs may have certain toxins on their skin that make them poisonous or perhaps just distasteful to the large spiders and perhaps makes their certain relationship possible in the first place (this is speculation, not proven just observed).

The frog would benefit living in close proximity by eating the small invertebrates that are attracted by the spider's left over prey while simultaneously receiving protection from large predators while the spider would essentially gain a live in maid. It has also been speculated that the frog would eat the ants that could potentially harm the spider's eggs that the spiders find difficult to deal with.

However, these relationships are only seen rarely within nature and have only really been observed in Peru and India. But it should be noted that these are seen in unconnected lineages meaning these relationships are occurring naturally at the discretion of the spiders. This is just an example of a mutually benefiting relationship between two species in the wild. I'm not suggesting the faeries do the same with big spiders.

You didn't mention what the fairies eat, but assumedly they could act as pest control to these creatures (whether it be birds, or hedgehogs, or whatever you decide) or the creatures themselves could feed the faeries as needed. It would be a bit like a janky roommate situation, only it would be up to you whether the fairies are active contributors to the household or are freeloaders that occasionally wash the dishes, so to speak.

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    $\begingroup$ This post has some very interesting ideas, but I don's see where it addresses the OP's question about fairy architecture. We're a strictly structured site. Questions need to ask exactly one question. Answers need to answer the OP's question, not provide commentary, and suggestions. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 2, 2022 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Sep 2, 2022 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ This seems a bit counter-productive to cover next or under a giant spider when you have the ability to fly, and well, nothing says the fairies are resistant to any of their long list of their predators. And the weather x)... $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2022 at 8:41
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Wood, built into or onto trees. Or burrow under a bush. Look at shelter constructed by small flying creatures, faeries could do anything they do. Faeries could even make little bricks, or mortar together stones.

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  • $\begingroup$ By “small flying creatures”, do you mean birds? If so, what kind of bird nest were you thinking? Could you give me a few bird types to go by? I need their houses to have tops to them, and possibly doors. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2020 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ Insects. Rodents. Birds also. Some burrow, others makes hives/nests. Faeries could come up with some kind of glue to hold dirt/stones/sticks together. If you need rooves, use dried mud around interlaced sticks. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Sep 5, 2020 at 17:21
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Your fairies are basically like humans, just very small (and can fly)

All the same issues that affect how we design and build our structures would be encountered with the fairies, with very similar solutions. A small sample would be:

  • Wet weather - your structures need to withstand rain and keep you dry, especially if you are small
  • The cold - your structures need to be insulated, and you need to keep your buildings warm artificially if naturally unable to
  • Economy - your buildings need to be made of materials that are available, arranged to suit the fairy economy and value system, and encounter issues of longevity, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and utility

So, basically their structures would not differ from ours. If material science is relatively equivalent, timber is the easiest and most cost-effective material that accomplishes protection from wet weather, and is cheap.

However, it has no insulative value, and little longevity. These issues may lead to the use of stone in conjunction with timber, with insulation through air gaps and sheep's wool. The development of better materials would lead the fairy society to progress to advanced industry eventually.

Just a note: your fairy structures would differ from ours with respect to their ability to fly though. So, with this ability, you may be able to:

  • Have entries that are high up, so cities do not need to hug the ground (but they still need to be supported)
  • Have taller ceilings, and no need for interior stairs
  • Rooms could be stacked more, so buildings do not need to be wide if not needed
  • Cities could be vertically distributed, not just horizontally. This means workplaces could be in much closer relationship to homes, meaning infrastructure does not need to be stretched as many of our cities become when they grow.
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Leather

Your fairies are weak against many predators, but they are the terror of any large beast with eyes and a need to close them some nights. (Such as a luckless human expedition to harvest fairies for muti meat, once they grow dispirited and careless) Swooping with sharpened javelins from above, the fairies leave their prey blinded, helpless, and at grave risk of infection. They need merely wait for nature to take its course, then start the brain tanning process.

As thick as a fairy's hand, the leather is a tough, resilient building material that can be readily be attached at hard to reach places comparable to the woven bird nests discussed in another answer. With fine cordage of hair or sinew, it can be latched closed like a door. Nomadic cultures have achieved great insulating quality with leather in multiple layers with dead air between them. For the bolder fairies, free heat and transportation might be achieved by handing their leather house from the neck of a yak or musk-ox; they can then entertain themselves conniving ways to try to direct their chosen beast.

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Your Fey people though not endowed with strong magic do wield a modicum of magical power. One of these is a modest ability to manipulate materials on a nanoscale.

This ability is most prevalent in the construction of their dwellings. Where Desert Fey will separate individual sand grains to select the perfect type of crystals to bind to one another essentially growing their own crystalline houses on top and beneath the sands. Constructing strong walls and even using perfectly clear quartz crystals to channel sunlight, through long tubes, deep below the surface away from the desert heat and cold of night.

Where the Wood Fey use unique species of plant and tree to direct the wood grains into overlapping patterns criss crossing and brading the already strong fibers into designed shapes including small tunnels configured in ingenious ways to insulate and distribute heat throughout the dwelling. Wispy hydrophobic fibers offers more insolation during the coldest and wettest of days.

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I would like to offer a frame challenge. Given that you've supplied us with four possible ecosystems where fairies might live, each with different resources, I don't think you're actually asking about materials. I think you're asking about overall survival - how do fairies, despite being small and weak, survive in hostile environments? What would a fairy community need to look like in order to guarantee that survival? To give an idea of what I think fairy communities would look like, I want to talk about Beaver Dams.

enter image description here

Beavers create dams that disrupt the flow of a stream or river, creating an artificial island where they can build their lodge. Land predators can't easily get past the moat they've built for themselves, birds can't get in through the top, and as a special bonus, they've changed the playbook for most things that threaten them - by turning the river into a pond, more animals will come here to drink, creating an environment where stealth predators have a harder job because of how busy the area is likely to be.

Communities of fairies will only survive by working together, and the shelters they construct will probably have more in common with the beaver than with anything human. Rather than individual houses, they will build large, communal structures that can be subdivided on the inside, but which, like the beaver lodge, create artificial barriers for any and all potential predators, while also, by nature of their size and complexity, offer some change to the environment.

The forest fairies will likely make structures very similar to beaver dams, using any and all materials on hand. Given that there is a strain of fairy that lives underwater, I'm assuming all fairies can survive in water, meaning that the beaver lodge strategy where the only entrances are for swimming animals would still work. However, i think the fairies would also create an emergency exit near the top, a somewhat loose area in the construction that could be broken from within so that if the river flooded, the lodge could be abandoned and all the fairies could fly out in a swarm.

Obviously, the Desert fairies won't have rivers to dam. They can't copy paste this approach. What they can do, however, is move dirt and farm cacti. What I'm imagining is something like a termite mound, but surrounded by a grove of cacti.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Fairies would make natural pollinators, and being intelligent and social, it would be easy for them to use this to control the plant life of their surroundings. In other ecosystems, this wouldn't add much to their natural defenses, but in the desert, where plants come with defenses of their own, it would be very advantageous. (Now that I think of it, Forest fairies may actually do the same thing, seeding blackberry and other thorn bushes around their construction if they can't easily redirect a river)

From here, the other two strains of fairy are just extensions of these approaches. Underground fairies build the mounds, but in places where cacti don't grow, so they make the mound less conspicuous, pushing further down into the earth and creating more intricate, hidden colonies wither entrances and exits all across a large swath of land, maybe even taking advantage of existing cavern systems to do so. Underwater fairies make lodges, but instead of artificial lakes off of a river, they are making artificial tidal pools off of a coastline, using clam shells and seaweed as much as driftwood to make more watertight constructions.

These constructions would collectively be called Fairy Castles. I imagine fairies living in groups of 50 to 100, building these castles together, and then digging into the ground or into the walls they've built to create family enclosures inside the castle. Depending on where the fairies live they build their castles out of what's available, and keep them intact and and in good repair for however long they need it for. Some fairies may build seasonal castles, some may build ones that last for a few years (long enough for children to grow to adulthood, for example), some may build ones that are effectively permanent. The fairy groups may or may not have heirarchy, may or may not cast out individuals who don't cooperate with the group, but the central idea is, living together as a big collective allows them to make complex structures like this, and increases overall survival rate.

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