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Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture

The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture at Dharmalaya Institute is a formal, academically-supervised internship programme designed to provide architects (and students of architecture) with both practical experience and deeper theoretical knowledge in the arts and practices of sustainable building, with an emphasis on the Kangra style of vernacular earthen architecture.

› For a brief introduction to the field of vernacular eco-architecture, see this page.

About the Internship Programme

The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture at the Dharmalaya Institute was established by venerated eco-architect Didi Contractor of Himachal Pradesh in partnership with the Dharmalaya Institute, with the purpose of passing Ms. Contractor’s knowledge on to the next generation of architects, deepening their understanding of the art and practices of sustainable architecture and the social and ecological context in which the work of the architect takes place, and making a contribution to the preservation and revival of vernacular traditions for sustainable living. Due to limitations of health and time, Didi Contractor is no longer supervising the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture since June 2014, but she remains active on the Dharmalaya Institute’s faculty as our senior architect, adviser, and visiting professor. The Internship is now supervised jointly by the faculty of the Dharmalaya Institute.

Through the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture, interns have the opportunity to gain practical experience working with trained earthen builders and artisans at the Dharmalaya Institute in Bir (and possibly at other sites in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh and beyond, depending on circumstances). Interns will also explore the cultural context and philosophical foundations of vernacular eco-architecture, and of sustainable and compassionate living more generally, including the development of the architect as a whole person through self-awareness, contemplation, meditation, yoga, ethical business practice, etc.

The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture is open to both practicing architects and students of architecture (of all ages and backgrounds) who wish to deepen their practical and theoretical understanding of vernacular earthen architecture by making a serious commitment to a rigorous programme of hands-on work and experiential learning in a real-world environment. This is a challenging programme with high standards and enrolment is very limited, so interns will be selected through an application process to help us identify the applicants who might benefit most from the programme.

About the Dharmalaya Institute

The Dharmalaya Institute is a charitable educational institution working to preserve and advance the traditions, arts, and sciences of sustainable and compassionate living in the Himalayas and beyond. For more information, see About Dharmalaya Institute.

Architecture students should note that Dharmalaya Institute is not an architectural firm as such, so you will not be sitting in an office. Our campus is in a remote rural area, far from both the pollution and the comforts of city life. Living at Dharmalaya Institute, with its ashram-style, community-oriented, work-focused environment, is very different to what most city-dwellers might have experienced — and, if you are open-minded, open-hearted, and hardworking, it might just be life-changing for you in very positive ways.


The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture is designed to focus on the vernacular (rather than commercial or academic) traditions of eco-architecture, yet also serves interns with academic training in architecture. Accordingly, the faculty is comprised of a mix of architects, builders, and artisans both with and without formal academic training in architecture. 

The faculty of the Internship currently includes:

  • Didi Contractor, Professor Emeritus (semi-retired but still teaching occasionally)
  • Mark Moore, Founding Director of the Dharmalaya Institute; designer, educator, and artist
  • Debasmita Ghosh (part-time faculty), licensed architect
  • Anujna Dnyaneshwar (part-time faculty), licensed architect
  • Minna Bansal (part-time faculty), architect
  • Sourabh Phadke (visiting faculty), licensed architect and experiential educator
  • Savneet Kaur (visiting faculty), licensed architect, Imarat Architects

Other artisans and builders trained by Didi Contractor frequently participate in the programme as trainers, including Naresh Kumar Sharma et al.


Applicants for the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture should meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Academics: Interns must have completed at least two years of study in a college-level degree programme related to any of the following fields: architecture, art, engineering, design, ecology, sustainability-related studies, or social studies (e.g. anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.).
  • Language: Interns must be able to understand English (ideally with fluency), and at least basic Hindi is also recommended (though not absolutely necessary).
  • Time: Interns must commit to a minimum of four months doing full-time work and study in the programme. Longer commitments of 6-12 months or more are much preferred, but the absolute minimum requirement is four months (no exceptions). If you are interested in a shorter experience, we recommend you consider one of the Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training workshops (see programme schedule on the bottom half of our homepage) followed by a period of volunteering at Dharmalaya to gain greater depth of understanding and proficiency.
  • Training: Applicants for the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture who live in India must have completed at least one of the Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training workshops in Eco-Architecture, Earthen Building, or Sustainable Living (or an equivalent programme) before formal acceptance into the internship (see programme schedule here). For qualified applicants living outside India, other accommodations can be made on a case-by-case basis.

How It Works: Structure & Format of the Internship Programme

The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture at Dharmalaya Institute consists of both brief, intensive training periods followed by extended practice periods. Both are necessary and equally important. The intensive trainings provide both theory instruction and, more importantly, guidance from skilled artisans in how to do the actual work of earthen building according to best practices. The purpose of the extended practice periods is to provide the opportunity to deepen one’s understanding and refine one’s skills through hands-on work in a real-world earthen construction environment, which is typically on the Dharmlaya campus itself. (Note that this is often hard physical work; it is not sketching or computer work. For an idea of what kinds of work you will be doing, see this page from our FAQ.)

The intensive trainings happen during workshops that are usually one to two weeks in duration. All interns must complete at least two of these training workshops in order to satisfy the requirements of the Internship: one either before the start of their internship or at the start of it; and the other at any point during the remainder of their internship. (In certain cases, with advance permission, some interns may be able to start their internship at the same time as they begin their first workshop.)

In general, the Internship proceeds as follows:

  1. Prospective interns read all information about the Internship thoroughly and consider it carefully.
  2. Register for and complete first building workshop at Dharmalaya Institute.
  3. Apply for the Intership online (see application link below).
  4. The faculty of the Dharmalaya Institute will review applications and may request a phone/Skype interview.
  5. Approved applicants who have already completed at least one training workshop at Dharmalaya Institute will be able to begin their internship as soon as they receive notice of being admitted to the Internship. Applicants who have not yet completed a training workshop at Dharmalaya Institute will need to complete such a training programme at the start of their formal internship. 
  6. After the initial training workshop, the programme will alternate between additional workshops (generally 1-3 weeks each) and extended work periods (which can be as long as two to four months in between workshops).

Commitments & Expectations

Interns accepted to the programme will be expected to keep the following commitments:

  • Working in a focused and diligent way, seven hours per day, six days per week. (Long-term interns will have the option to take a two-week break after every three months.) This includes doing a signficant amount of physical labour, so that every part of the earthen building process will be understood experientially (you can’t really understand a technique until you’ve done it yourself repeatedly and become good at it). We strongly recommend you exercise regularly before starting your internship so that you arrive in good physical shape, because you’ll be working hard.
  • Maintaining professional behaviour and positive attitude at all times (even when not on campus, so as to uphold the reputation of the Institute).
  • Applying yourself sincerely, doing what is asked of you as well as whatever you see needs doing, and making best efforts to achieve not only competence but also excellence.
  • Carrying your own weight (and a little extra): e.g. cleaning up after yourself, cheerfully contributing your fair share (and a little more) to community chores, dishwashing, upkeep, etc.
  • Participating in the communal activities at Dharmalaya Institute (or whatever your host location may be), e.g. meals, discussions, etc.
  • Treating everyone around you with respect and kindness, including your fellow interns, hosts, labourers, students, volunteers, visitors, etc.
  • Respecting the rules of the Dharmalaya Institute and the requests of your hosts at all times. (For a detailed explanation of the code of conduct and expectations, see our Visitor Information page.)
  • Keeping yourself informed about the programme calendar for the internship (see link below) and making your travel arrangements accordingly (and, if you have any schedule conflicts, discussing them with the Dharmalaya faculty far in advance in order to try to work out a mutually-agreeable solution).
  • Communicating clearly when you have any questions, needs, concerns, health issues, etc.
  • Providing feedback on the programmes and your experiences when requested.
  • Refraining from taking on other projects (paid or unpaid) while participating in the Internship.
  • Additionally, long-term interns may be required to do an independent or group project, such as a research paper, a hands-on building or design project, etc., depending on the needs on site at the time.
  • At the end of the internship, all interns must participate in an evaluation process, which includes a detailed self-evaluation, a programme evaluation, and a performance review.

Please understand that the internship takes place in a real-world context, in which the highest priority is the successful completion of the objectives of the Dharmalaya Institute and its programme partners, not the individual preferences of interns, and thus interns are expected to contribute to the smooth functioning of the Institute’s work and activities (just as would be the case if you were working professionally for an architecture firm) and not to disrupt or distract from those activities.

Having said that, we do want you to have the best educational experience possible in the circumstances, and to that end your communication and feedback is very important. Whenever there might be anything we could do to support your personal aspirations and experience, please do let us know.

Important Notes

1. Enrolment in the internship programme is by application. All applications are reviewed carefully to determine whether the applicant and the internship appear to be a good match. After processing your application, we will notify you as to whether you have been accepted into the programme. This usually takes 2-4 weeks, but could be less or more, so we suggest you apply at least one or two months before you need to make your travel arrangements. Please note that, for applicants who have not yet met the prerequisite of completing at least one training course at Dharmalaya Institute, acceptance into the programme would be provisional (on a trial basis), pending satisfactory completion of the requisite training course.

2. If you think the internship programme might be too demanding for you (or if our sessions don’t fit with your schedule), then you might consider one of the Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training worksops (see programme schedule here) or simply applying for a volunteer position at Dharmalaya instead.

3. The internship is subject to termination at any time if an intern does not keep his/her commitments to the programme (as outlined on this page), including carrying one’s own weight, participating fully in community activities, and being dependable in performing the required work (both on site and in community life) with a positive attitude and good results.

4. Participation in the internship programme does not confer the right to present oneself as a student, intern, or apprentice of Didi Contractor. The internship is with the Dharmalaya Institute, not with Didi Contractor herself.

5. The internship is a non-commercial programme in which architects (and others deeply interested in architecture) can gain valuable training, experience, and guidance in exchange for working hard and doing your best to make valuable contributions to the work conducted by the Dharmalaya Institute and its partners. Work done by interns is on a voluntary basis (unpaid), and you will pay all necessary expenses (as described below).

6. Current students of architecture or engineering who complete the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture successfully and who require a letter of participation signed by a licensed architect will receive the same, though the exact timing for getting said signature would depend on availability of the licensed architect. (In other words, you might have to make some effort to meet that architect or send your papers over to have them signed, which might take some time, and you’ll be responsible for organising whatever is necessary to get that done.)

Beds & Meals, Costs & Fees

Interns will be responsible for all of their own expenses, including transportation to and from Dharmalaya, and all food, lodging, and tuition costs as described below. Note that, due to inflation in India, these rates are subject to periodic increases.

Please note: Interns are responsible for carefully reading the information posted on this website to be clear about the costs in advance.

Intensive Workshops: Every internship session starts with a special orientation and training programme in the form of a workshop. Your internship programme will require at least two such intensive training workshops (each of which is generally one to three weeks in duration). We strongly recommend completing at least four of these workshops if your schedule allows, as this is the best way to gain training and experience in the widest variety of methods, materials, techniques, concepts, etc. Costs for these programmes will be posted on our website from time to time. The standard fee for these workshops generally would be in the range of Rs 1000-1250 per day (including tuition, food and lodging expenses), but interns benefit from discounts beginning with their second workshop.

The policy regarding tuition fees for these training workshops for interns is as follows:

  • For the first training workshop, all interns will pay the full tuition fee for the workshop (generally around Rs 1000-1250 per day at present). 
  • For the second architecture-related workshop, interns receive a 25% tuition discount in exchange for helping to guide the newer participants.
  • For the third workshop, interns receive a 50% tuition discount in exchange for helping to guide the newer participants and providing other assistance with the workshop.
  • For the fourth workshop, interns receive a 75% tuition discount in exchange for help with whatever is required.
  • For any future architecture-related workshops at Dharmalaya Institute (from the fifth one onward), current or past interns in good standing may be permitted to participate tuition-free in exchange for helping to run the programmes (subject to available space). 

Aside from these workshops and other special programmes, there is no tution fee for interns during post-workshop work periods, but you will have to cover your costs as described below.

Costs for Food & Lodging at Dharmalaya: During the extended work periods (meaning any time other than the intensive training workshops or other periodic special programmes), the fees for food and lodging at Dharmalaya Institute are minimal. Beds in shared tents are available on a donation basis, while dorm beds and private rooms, as well as meals, are available on a sliding scale. See our Accommodations page for detailed cost information for lodging and food at Dharmalaya. (Note that interns who have been at Dharmalaya Institute for more than four months and have completed at least two training workshops may qualify for discounted meals during extended work periods, or possibly even free room and board, in exchange for taking on specific responsibilities at the Institute, subject to availability of work-study positions and other conditions.)

Outside Expenses: If your internship experience involves time spent on assignment working at other sites (outside the Dharmalaya campus), the fees for food and accommodation will vary. You would be responsible for any outside expenses, including transportation, etc. As a guideline, we can advise you that currently meals at other locations can be expected to cost in the range of Rs 80-150/person. Please note that these outside costs are not under Dharmalaya’s control and Dharmalaya is not responsible for them.

Daily Schedule

The exact daily schedule of the internship programme is subject to change according to needs and circumstances, but you can find an example of a typical daily schedule on our Visitor Info page.

Additionally, there will be periodic special meetings, discussions, and other activities specifically for interns. For example:

  • Periodic evaluations session in which interns receive feedback from their supervisors.
  • Periodic group sharing session so we can hear about interns’ experiences.
  • Occasional special workshops, presentations, group discussions, etc.


New interns typically join the programme in batches, on a fixed date at the beginning of a new session. There are usually three or four such sessions each year. Each of these sessions begins with an intensive orientation and training programme lasting one to two weeks. When you submit your application, you must select one of these programmes to attend as your initial orientation and training (no exceptions, unless you have already completed one of Dharmalaya’s training programmes, in which case your start date is more flexible). All interns must complete at least two of these training workshops before the internship can be considered complete, and preference is given to interns who commit to doing at least three such workshops.

The next available workshop dates are:

  • 31 July - 5 August 2017
  • 4-9 September 2017
  • 2-7 October 2017
  • 7-18 November 2017
  • 21 November - 2 December 2017
  • 1-6 January 2018 (tentative, subject to change)
  • 5-10 February 2018 (tentative, subject to change)
  • 5-25 April 2018 (tentative, subject to change)

NOTE: It is not possible to begin your internship at any time other than the dates listed above unless you have already completed a qualifying initial training workshop. (If  you have already completed your intitial training workshop and have been accepted into the Internship, then you may request a special arrangment to start at another time.)

If you are looking for an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in between these sessions (or before the next one starts), you are welcome (and encouraged) to apply to work at Dharmlaya as a regular volunteer. Please note there is no formal programme or academic supervision for regular volunteers (so it is not for academic credit and no certificate is provided), but it is a great opportunity to gain practical experience with eco-friendly earthen construction by working with our team of local artisans. To learn more about volunteering at Dharmalaya, see this page.

You will find the 2017 schedule on this page. The schedule includes information about dates, activities, and also the relevant costs. All interns must read and follow the schedule, and you are responsible for making your travel plans accordingly and paying the published fees.


The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture at Dharmalaya Institute is not a certificate programme. It is purely for the sake of learning, gaining both insight and practical experience, and developing skills and sensitivity. No certificate will be given, so anyone seeking certificates would need to look elsewhere. (Why? See our Certificate Policy for a detailed explanation.)

In cases where proof of participation in the internship is required by a current student’s academic institution, we will be happy to send a letter directly to your professor or academic institution confirming your participation, provided you have completed a minimum of at least four months of active participation in the programme and met the expectations published on this page. For students whose academic institutions require sign-off by a licensed architect, this will be provided (but note that you may need to travel to meet the licensed architect in order to receive the signature and stamp).

The only one exception to this no-certificate rule: Interns who are exceptionally passionate about developing their physical skills in the arts of earthen building are invited to consider joining Dharmalaya Institute’s Earthen Masonry Training programme, which requires a bare minimum commitment of six months of full-time work plus examinations in order to demonstrate competence and earn a certificate in earthen masonry. The Earthen Masony programme can be done in parallel with the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture (you can do both at the same time if you’re extremely committed and can do at least six months of full-time work). But we have to warn you: This is a very challenging programme and masonry is honest hard work, so if you’ve never done masonry before we advise you to try it out first before committing to the programme. For details, see our page on the Earthen Masonry Training programme.

Note for International Applicants (Those Who Are Not Citzens of India, Nepal, or Bhutan)

Dharmalaya Institute welcomes all qualified applicants and does not discriminate on the basis of nationality. If you are not a citizen of India/Nepal/Bhutan, however, you will need to apply for a visa to visit India. We can provide the necessary invitation letter and papwerwork for you to apply for a student visa (or you could simply apply for a tourist visa if you plan to stay only a short time).

Applying for the Internship Programme

If you wish to apply for the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture, first make sure that you have read all of the information above carefully. Then, if you meet the prerequisities described above and you are ready to make the commitments outlined above, you may complete the internship application form here.