Time for some hare brained architecture!

I was thinking about elves living in their tree houses via the mapping of such inherently three dimensional settlements. Normal houses transplanted from the ground is unsatisfying. Using magic to shape the trees feels like a cop out and is kind of dubious biologically. It is possible, trees are fairly robust that way, but just seems risky for a race of tree-huggers to do on large scale.

So I though about houses suspended by ropes going criss cross between the trees. You'd put webs between the ropes to create level load bearing surfaces for floors and pathways. Textiles would then supply protection from elements in the form of floor, walls, and ceilings. Treatment with oils or tree saps would allow water and wind proof surfaces.

Then I started thinking about the sheer amount of fiber needed for all that. It would be light weight, but you would need lots of it. And such structures would require constant rebuilding, so the demand would be constant.

Where would elves get all that fiber? Steal it from the giant spiders? Fill the ground below with cotton plantations tended by human slaves? Raise monkeys with sheep like fur? These ideas have some flavour and might make interesting stories. An elven settlement surrounded by a forest absolutely filled with spiders and their webs makes lot more sense if you can point out that the spiders are farmed for their silk by the elves.

Still scaling these solutions up would mean meddling with local ecology on the same scale as human practices did. It doesn't really give the elves a flavour of being more in touch with the nature.

So I ended up with a source of fiber that automatically scales up with the population and thus presumably the demand. Hair. My elves will simply grow hair suitable for ropes and textiles at a speed sufficient for the demand.

Using homes build from parts of your own body should also be convenient when adding magic. Such self-sourced textiles would also be good for magically attuned clothing and various magic talismans. This would help in making the elves inherently more magical than humans, something that many settings seem to struggle with. And elves traditionally come with exotic hair colours...

But what about the practical issues? Such buildings should be mainly require tensile strength. (We can at this stage hand wave weather and wear resistance.)

What level of tensile strength would be needed for such structures? Reasonable changes to design from one described above to reduce loads should be assumed.

Can hair provide the needed tensile strength or is something more exotic needed? Some spider silk can be added, if necessary.

What kinds of loads would the trees be subjected to and could trees withstand the load? Feel free to assume the most sensible trees and forest type.

  • $\begingroup$ Really liking this - it feels like a genuinely fresh concept. You just need to look at aerial assault courses, treetop walks, etc to see that trees are more than capable of taking this. The elves would just need to watch out for trees aging/weakening and take appropriate actions. You also need to consider that hair degrades in the environment over time. Perhaps the elves have ways to treat it (coating in oils or whatever) to make it last longer. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


Some numbers to start:

Human hair has a tensile strength of about 350-400 MPa.

Spider Silk has a tensile strength of about 1000-1500 MPa.

Typical 2x4s weigh about 1.5lbs/ft, so about 6lbs per sqft.

There are approximately 150,000 strands on the average human head. Each strand can support almost 100g.

Be conservative and safe, say 50g per strand. That's about 7,500,000g or about 16,500lbs! That's for a rope the size of the average girls braided pony tail. That rope could support about 2750sqft of flooring!

And that's at HALF CAPACITY!

Keep in mind human hair is about as strong as aluminum weight for weight. You could maybe base your totals off of aluminum cable.

You can figure out some measurements from that.

I like the idea and I don't see why it wouldn't work. You see people support themselves from their hair in circus acts and such. You see other pull vehicles with their hair. These aren't even straining the hair at all.

I don't think you'd need to magically change the hair except for the growth rate really. So many textiles are made from different hair that the idea isn't so out of this world when you think about it.

I also don't think you'd need to add anything to the hair to help it. Once the hair is braided into a rope it would be rather strong. You could mix all kinds of things to make it stronger or to basically laminate it. All of this isn't needed tho.

The architecture would be simple just have a few points of anchor, and have a few ropes support the structures. The more hair ropes you have the bigger and crazier the structure can get. You could even use the hair as building material. Ropes to keep boards together. Mix the hair with things like mud or sap to make shapes for walls or roofs and so on.

Picking how to build the actual structures I'll leave up to you since I don't want to take away from your idea and imagination.

As for the trees you could use. There are many. Redwoods, Giant Sequoia, Baobab, Eucalyptus, so on. These are all very tall and strong trees that could easily support the structures. If the trees don't need to be as tall, you could easily use things like Banyan trees or coconut palms.

It really depends where geographically you'd want the elves. Most trees as long as they are packed closely enough would be able to support structures as long as the load is spread out. The first list could support MASSIVE structures on their own too.

As far as how much weight a specific tree can hold, that's really complicated. There are so many variables to think about here. I'd say that the elves most likely wouldn't bother with the physics so much as understanding innately what a tree can take.


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