I'm cooking up a city populated more or less half and half by humans and halflings (with a scattering of other races).

My first thought was that halflings would generally have more or less human-sized houses (to allow their human friends and neighbors easy access), while humans would have a bunch of stepping stools around the house (to allow the halflings to use the human-sized furniture).

My second thought was that that might be a bit too humanocentric.

What are other ways that the two species might live side by side? Note that I'm not thinking that there are any conscious integration. This is simple two species that have lived side by side for a few hundred years, and learned the best way to do so.

  • $\begingroup$ You might want to define what exactly you mean by "halfling" in your question. $\endgroup$
    – Pyritie
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ Terry Prachett: Discoworld. Nuff said $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ As addition to the Discworld-reference: yep, awesome reference for just that. Good reads that look at the political implications more deeply: Thud, and Feet of Clay, (where the multicultural nature of a city are driving the plot!) but in general all the City-Watch stories! $\endgroup$
    – Layna
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ We do (some of us, anyway) live side-by-side with halflings: they're called children :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: true, although half the height of a human, three feet ish, is a three-year-old. And for the first year of that they're not so much "side-by-side" as "on the floor" unless otherwise placed ;-) So it's only really a brief period of being halflings before the blighters grow and you can start putting them in normal furniture. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:41

6 Answers 6


If there's no conscious integration I would expect that many halflings will have accommodations unsuitable for humans and vice-versa. I say this because I observe in real life that most buildings that aren't consciously intended or adapted to be wheelchair-accessible, aren't accessible. Same goes for very short people: they aren't all that comfortable in a typical kitchen. Of course nothing like 50% of the population is in wheelchairs (or under 4 foot high), and if they were then house-builders would take more efforts to build for both. But they'd still have to do this consciously. It won't happen by accident because a human can always save some space by shelving to the ceiling and not having any step, whereas a halfling can always save loads of space by building small.

Publicly-used buildings (including shops, theatres and so on) would be designed for both unless you want to lose half your potential visitors. Buildings for governmental purposes might be required to accommodate both, assuming there's no particular discrimination against one or the other. Therefore techniques will be known, how to design for both without offending the dignity of either.

I would expect some human-bias just because (other than shelves) it's somewhat easier for a halfling to make do with human-sized stuff than it is for a human to make do with halfling-sized stuff. However there are plenty of things that could be designed for both in interesting ways:

  • Large staircases can be shallow and deep (to permit halflings to take an extra pace on each step). Where space doesn't permit that, perhaps staircases could have double the frequency of steps on one side: in effect build a half-step into the right-hand-side of every human-step. Or just do whatever: a half-height human can in fact climb a normal-sized staircase and vice-versa, it's just harder.

  • 6 foot or lower ceilings aren't all that uncommon in very old English houses, even though some people were taller than that (not so many as today). Therefore a halfling family building on a budget at a low tech level would surely use 3-4 foot ceilings in either some or all rooms, according to whether they feel that entertaining humans is essential or not. You might have halfling houses with one tall room and the rest short. Rich people (with typical human psychology) will in any case build ceilings and doors far taller than they are. So unless your halflings are agoraphobic, luxury buildings will suit both.

  • Halflings would require windows to descend lower than humans require them to, or they can't see down out of them. Humans require windows to ascend higher than halflings require them to, or else light doesn't come down onto them. So a mutually-accommodating style might tend to tall windows. For buildings with small windows you might see a square at 5 foot above floor level, and another at 2 foot above floor level, with wall in between them. For buildings that have tiny windows for cost reasons you might see a compromise: windows at a height that's convenient to nobody.

  • Door-handles and similar fitments. Humans like them at their waist-height, which is usable to a halfling but not as comfortable. Reaching much below waist-level is probably more inconvenient than reaching at head-level, so I'd expect handles to be at human-waist-height or slightly below.

  • Chairs make some assumptions about how tall you are in order to seat you comfortably. A human can barely sit in a halfling-chair at all, and a halfling would perch on the front of a human chair with legs dangling. Therefore, low chaises-longues! If everyone expects to sit with feet raised, or to recline, then everyone can use the same furniture (long enough for a human) and end up closer to the same height than if the chair-base is matched to their leg-length. Failing that, a mixture of furniture would be the way to go for those who want to entertain everyone.

  • Work-surfaces are difficult. Perhaps they wouldn't be built-in to kitchens, pantries, butchers, offices, workshops, etc. Rather, put in sturdy tables of the appropriate height for whoever is there. If built-in, then you'd just re-fit the place when the new owner is the wrong height. Unless the ceiling is low, in which case you can be sure the user will always be a halfling and build accordingly.

  • Storage, aka "what can you reach?". I think things like stools and library steps will be common. That's what humans use anyway when they shelve beyond their own reach, so I don't think it's as humano-centric as you fear. Of course, a host doesn't expect a guest to need to reach every shelf in the house, so won't necessarily have one in every room. Humans employing halfling servants might, though, and halflings employing human servants had better live in tall houses rather than short ones. Hanging-rails for clothes are probably difficult, since anything high enough to hang a full-length human dress/cloak/code/robe is too high for a halfling to reach. Therefore perhaps a dual-use wardrobe has a removable lower rail or a fold-out step.

  • Real-life shops often have shelves out of reach to some or all of their customers and employees (to a lesser extent in the last 50 years now that so many shops are self-service, but find someone 5 feet tall and ask them how they get on in a typical supermarket -- they can't reach the top shelf and the store doesn't care. If all else fails they can summon a tall staff member to help them). Ladders aren't that difficult, it's only health and safety that prevents them being offered to customers. Sliding ladders attached to the shelves are awesome.

  • Cutlery, crockery, glasses and so on could be kept in a wider variety of sizes. In real life I have side-plates and dinner-plates. In your world (and assuming halflings eat less than humans, contrary to Tolkien) I might have three sizes of plate, with the middle one doing double-duty. Mugs/cups/glasses could respect the sizes of people's hands. Alternatively, perhaps society decides that the polite thing is not to discriminate. Pick a size both can use, and this becomes the standard size for everything. It's rude for halflings to use smaller settings while humans are present, or humans to use larger. It's extremely rude to assume a halfling only wants half a beer ;-)

  • In fact, on the subject of rudeness, how come the halflings are called "halflings" rather than the humans being called "doublings" or something? If the species speak the same language and have always been regarded equally in that language, then the words for the species would probably not express one in terms of the other. Of course if the language they speak was originally a human language then it might well call halflings that for historical reasons. If the language was originally halfling then the word for them shouldn't have "half" in it, they might be called "humans" and "giants".

  • I don't know what your tech level is, but re-designing a real-life car to be driven by either a human or a halfling would be a bit tricksy. Probably best never to use pedals in the first place: perhaps provide acceleration and breaking handles more like a motorbike. And of course you need to either provide enough window for everyone to see out of, or else height-adjustable seats. With a matching footrest, assuming halfling buyers don't want to dangle their legs for hours. Or give up on the idea of making them dual-use and sell two configurations out of the factory.

Being cynical, one might expect that halflings can live more cheaply than humans (less square footage and less height), eat more cheaply (less food), but can do less manual labour (smaller and weaker). Therefore they might well not be economically equal to humans, no matter how friendly everyone is. They could afford to work for lower wages, and in some jobs are less valuable to employers since they chop less wood per day or whatnot. Do what you like with the economics and politics of this! But if there is a difference in subsistence earnings, then the species wouldn't be fully interchangeable as employees. There would be some jobs that it's too expensive to feed a human to do, whereas a halfling is cheap enough. There would likely be some jobs where a human does more work per unit pay than a halfling, so the situation is reversed and only a human is cheap enough. It might turn out that the species start to separate by profession/industry, but I think that by tuning the parameters you've got some freedom to decide which species is best in which industries. The reason I talk about subsistence earnings, is that once you can demand more than that for your labour/services, it no longer matters so much how many calories you need or how tall your house needs to be, you meet those basic requirements with a smaller and smaller proportion of your expenditure.

  • Instead of western-style tables and chairs, everyone has low tables where you sit on a mat instead of a chair. Perhaps something like the japanse Kotatsu for instance. This allow halflings, children and adult humans easy access to the table, with no chair-complications.

  • In shops, the shelves stand in pairs in the middle of the room and each shelf is open on both sides. In between two shelves is a scaffold which let halflings retrieve goods on the higher shelves, while humans retrieve goods from the outside.

  • Combined shelves and stairs like the one below, is an ubiquous part of the city's interior architecture.

  • instead of our horizontal door handles, the typical door has a long vertical handle, which is twisted sideways or pulled down to open the door. The humans and halflings grab the higher or lower half of the handle and it doesn't feel like it's designed for just one particular race.

  • Instead of everyone having tall roofs, most buildings have sloping roofs. When sold between the races, the new owner simply re-decorates to suits his/her height, with humans storing things in drawers in the low end and halflings setting up book-case stairs in the tall end. When a human and a halfling shares a meal around an indoor table, the human sits at the tall-roof end.

  • The door in people's homes are under the roof ridge and so can be a tall one. However, some halflings have halfling-sized doors, with the area over the door for a glass window, to let in more light. The window is flush with the door and can be opened with a clasp, so that a human may enter the house without stooping.

  • Beds at inns are oval in shape and can accompany both races. One human sleeps along the long axis or two halflings across the short axis.

enter image description here Ergonomic bookshelf shared by humans and halflings.

  • $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity: why an oval instead of a rectangle for the beds? (any why force the poor halflings to share? ^^) $\endgroup$
    – Layna
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Layna: Sure rectangle can work, but with an oval you get a longer short-axis for the same area and room on the sides for a cupboard. The halflings don't have to share but the humans can't. $\endgroup$
    – Abulafia
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a modular approach to temporary bedding is more appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – Gusdor
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:26

I would expect that for the most part there would be communities where like stays with like. Most halfling homes would be in the same neighborhood, most humans would be together as well. Humans do that all the time and we don't have such differences. How many cities in the US still have a 'Chinatown'? France's Muslim community seems to be mostly separate. How many Jewish quarters have there been?

Now that doesn't mean that there won't be conveniences and traditions for mixed race gatherings. As pointed out in the comments, Japanese style tables might be one way, or just lounging couches like the ancient Greeks had.

People who host others would more likely own some furniture more suited to them.

Sitting rooms would likely be designed for the comfort all. Maybe a halfling couch but up on a dais so that it is level with someone sitting on a full sized couch. A halfling sitting room would likely have a vaulted ceiling, etc.

But in general I think it would be extremely cost prohibitive to design homes that could cater to everything for both races even if it took setup time in between. To begin with a halfling home could be quite a bit smaller over all and still have the same relative space. Half as tall could use 1/4 the space to get the same amenities.

  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if US cities have a "Chinatown" for the same reason they might have a theatre (theater) district, rather than as an actual segregation. That is to say, I think in many cities the Chinese-American people don't really live in Chinatown, on the whole. It's just where the Chinese-looking buildings and stores are :-) But of course there are many other examples of genuine segregation, either forced or just because of immigrants or those with a defined culture tending to live near each other. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ Most China towns in the US started out as a segregation. Partially chosen, many didn't speak English and so stayed together to have a sense of community and belonging. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Sure: immigrants tend to behave (and to be treated) in certain predictable ways. The questioner's humans aren't recent immigrants, though, so I wonder whether Humantown wouldn't become a similar nominal district rather than actually where the humans live. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:42

The biggest consideration here has little to do with the population but what level of development is your community? A city developmentally similar to 13th century Paris or somewhere in central Africa today might not change much regardless of the height of the individuals. It hardly matters when sleeping on rush mats on the floor and cooking over an open fire while there is hardly any furniture to be concerned with.

If presuming a fairly well developed wealthy/modern community, housing which accommodates both scales of people would be highly inefficient and considerably more expensive - dwellings and private areas would be specialized to be most comfortable for one size or the other. Public areas like restaurants or government offices could be adapted with accessibility in mind, but the added expense is hardly worth it otherwise.

The difference in height between the typical halfling and typical human is considerable - there is very little functional overlap. Think of how well a 3 year old (average height at that age is around 3 feet) functions in a normal house - it simply isn't sized for their comfort. We don't care so much for kids, as they grow quickly and don't seriously do much, but adult halflings need functional furnishings to go about their typical daily lives. The idea that buildings would all be human sized and often remodeled to fit the needs of different dwellers very much depends on how wealthy your society really is (a significant added expense to the cost of housing would encourage segregation).

Halfling dwellings would be scaled down appropriately, saving massive costs in materials and labor, not to mention significant structural differences to accommodate greatly reduced needs. Building to human standards would constitute gross over-engineering of everything. Even modern levels of wealth would likely find that highly wasteful for half the population.

Cultural differences in design would likely be significant, simply due to different perspectives and functional considerations. Do halflings like a cozy atmosphere of ceilings just above their head, or a reaching distance above like we tend to (which would be rooms only 4 feet high for them compared to the typical 8 foot ceilings where I live), or would they enjoy having what is in effect very high cathedral ceilings in every room? Personally I'm only comfortable with such high ceilings in entry-halls or grand dining-rooms (had I such a thing), but not so much in my bedroom, toilet, or study. These kinds of comfort considerations will determine what kind of housing they will tend to use.

Being half the population, and families being one or the other so it isn't a matter of accommodating an individual with a disability in an otherwise normal household, facilities would be built to suit their particular comfort. I don't see much overlap between species of such great differences in scale on a daily living basis. In terms of working relationships, such diversity would likely be very useful, but probably going home at night to a home built for their own species (after a night out in the pub with their friends of all sorts).


Ramps instead of stairs for public areas, otherwise you will have problems giving access to halfling children going to school.

Take, for instance, this reference picture of a generic fantasy setting:

For public drinking fountains might need to lower the third one for Halfling children enter image description here

Houses that give easy access for 5 year olds is a good starting reference for design. Except when it comes to Halfling children.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure why you're bringing up Discworld in conjunction with that image, since that world doesn't have "halflings" as far as we've seen, female dwarves are explicitly stated to have beards (and the concept of dressing noticeably feminine is considered a very novel concept among dwarves), gnomes are described as coming up to ankle height, while there has been very recent and brief mention of orcs, no half-orcs are known to exist... And no Discworld size/shape comparison reference image would leave out trolls. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 12:15

Typically old cities grew from smaller villages growing up until there was no longer empty space between them. As such the city would originally have been composed of human villages, halfling villages and whatever made the area attractive enough for a city to be created. A market place, a harbour, a ford, a keep, a religious or political center... whatever. However eventually the villages would start working together for defense, handling relations with local ruler, and administering the focal resource. They'd set up a method for settling disputes. Eventually these would combine to give the city a common identity.

However to society would still be based on those original, probably almost entirely single race, villages. That would be where people would live and spend most of their time in. With their friends, relatives and family. This would be the group they'd identify with first, with the city second, and maybe their race or guild after that.

The reason these districts evolved from villages would be single race is because people did not really move that often. They'd have a family house built next to the house of their relatives by great-grandfather few hundred years ago. Or by their uncle after the last great fire. The point is people would live next to their relatives, who'd probably be of the same race.

There would probably be mixed race districts for transient workers or the destitute, who'd have no meaningful relatives to live with in the city. Even there it would be easier to have separate halfling houses and human houses.

Most businesses would also be single race because they'd be local to the district. The exception would be any businesses or services so specialized you would need relatively few of them in the city or that needs to deal with travellers. So while a halfling district might deal with common legal issues itself within the halfling traditions, anything rare or serious would be bumped up to mixed races courts of law.

I doubt this would cause significant friction between races absent some political or religious agitation. People do not feel close to their own race, they feel close to their neighbours, friends and family. A stranger is danger even if they are of the same race.


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