Search our website


 What: Intensive training workshop & practicum

Topic: Vernacular eco-architecture of the Himalayas

Where: Dharmalaya Institute in Bir, HP, India

When: 1-30 June 2015

Language: English (with Hindi translation if needed)

Description: Residential service-learning programme at the Dharmalaya Institute with hands-on training in earthen building and more. Learn the basics of building eco-friendly earthen structures inspired by the neo-traditional Kangra style of esteemed eco-architect Didi Contractor, while contemplating our relationship with nature and the values of sustainable and compassionate living.

What is Vernacular Eco-Architecture? See this page for an introduction.

The programme is divided into two halves. The first half (1-15 June) is an intensive training in which you will learn some of the basic skills of earthen construction and receive an introduction to some of the theory and principles behind this style of vernacular earthen architecture. The second half (16-30 June) is a practicum in which you will deepen your understanding and develop your skills by working alongside local village artisans on real-world earthen construction projects.

After the introductions, orientation, and general overview of the programme, we will dive straight into action with hands-on training in the real-world environment of the Dharmalaya campus. This will include guided work on three earthen structures that are in various stages of construction, and possibly laying the foundations for a brand new structure. The main focus during the first part of this programme will be on completing two new buildings with roofing and weatherproofing before the monsoon rains come. This may include learning to to work with bamboo, as well as mud plaster and possibly other techniques. Though the focus is hands-on learning, we will also have some theory explorations and other presentations and discussions. We may do some water management as well, in preparation for the coming rainy season. 

Workshops and groups sessions during the intensive training (1-15 June) are likely to include most if not all of the following:

  • Hands-on education in neo-traditional earthen architecture of the Himalayas
    • Making adobe bricks (sun-baked earth blocks)
    • Earthen masonry (building adobe/cob walls)
    • Earthen renders (mud plasters)
    • Other natural building materials and methods (e.g. stone, bamboo, wood, etc.)
  • Natural landscaping and organic gardening
  • Possible participatory design opportunities (if and when timing and circumstances permit)
  • Meditation/yoga (optional morning/evening sessions as interest demands)

During the practicum period (16-30 June), the daily work activities will depend upon the needs at circumstances on each day, and all participants are expected to participate fully in the work happening on site for the duration of each workday. Time and weather permitting, we will do a lineout and foundations for a brand new structure during this period. 

What to expect:

  • A blend of practice and theory, with emphasis on deepening understanding through practical experience.
  • Opportunities to learn traditional methods by working alongside village artisans.
  • You will be working with your hands and body for approximately six hours per day, six days per week, so it is recommended to be in reasonably good physical fitness when you arrive, and to bring work clothes.
  • A rustic, rural village atmosphere, with no TV and no Internet, but great views and great people, and so much to learn about the traditional wisdom of the people of the rural Himalayas.
  • Architecture and design students please note: The focus is on learning the materials, methods, and underlying principles of vernacular earthen architecture. There may or may not be small design opportunities, depending on circumstances on the worksite. There will not be much drawing involved.

Arrival & Departure: The programme will begin at 3pm on 1 June. It is very important for you to arrive at Dharmalaya Institute between 2:30 and 2:45pm on 1 June so that we can begin on time and you will not miss important introductory information. The programme will end at 2pm on 30 June, so please make your travel arrangements accordingly.

Breaks: During the June programme, there will be five days off: all day on 8 June; 48 hours from 2pm on 15 June until 2pm on 17 June; all day on 21 June, and all day on 28 June. Students are free to use these days in whichever ways they see fit, whether exploring the local area or just relaxing on the Dharmalaya campus. Also, during the practicum (16-30 June), students will be free in the evenings (after 6pm).

Cost: Rs 750 per day for the intensive training (1-15 June) and Rs 500 per day for the practicum (16-30 June), for a total of Rs 18,750 (which includes tution, comfortable tent accommodation and healthy vegetarian meals).

Preparatory Studies

In preparation for the training programme, please study the following materials to familiarize yourselves:

1. Read Dharmalaya Institute’s introduction to vernacular eco-architecture at

2. There are great overviews of basic methods of vernacular earthen architecture at the website of one of our faculty members, Sourabh Phadke:

3. If you are not familiar with the work of Didi Contractor, Laurie Baker, Chitra Vishwanath, and Sonam Wangchuk (SECMOL), it would be valuable to spend some time researching those names online.


Important Information

Before you pack for your trip to Dharmalaya, please read the very important information on our Visitor Info page and our FAQ, which will give you a clear idea of what to bring and what not to bring, as well what to expect and what’s expected of you. If you have a specific question that is not answered there, contact us here and we’ll be happy to answer.