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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 originally by venerated eco-architect Didi Contractor of Himachal Pradesh in partnership with the Dharmalaya Institute, with the purpose of passing Ms. Contractor’s knowledge and wisdom 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. Didi Contractor is now retired from her supervisory role since June 2014, but she remains involved informally as a senior adviser and Professor Emeritus, and gives talks a few times each year. 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, sustainable living habits, ethical and responsible business practices, 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 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:

  • Mark Moore, Founding Director of the Dharmalaya Institute; designer, educator, and artist
  • Anujna Dnyaneshwar (visiting faculty), licensed architect
  • Sourabh Phadke (visiting faculty), licensed architect and experiential educator
  • Savneet Kaur (visiting and Internship faculty), licensed architect, Imarat Architects
  • Didi Contractor, Professor Emeritus (retired but still advising)

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

Educational philosophy

Dharmalaya Institute’s educational philosophy draws on both the contemplative wisdom traditions of India and the Himalayas and the principles of Earthville Education. Our approach is holistic and highly experiential. It is very personalized yet strongly community-oriented. It seeks to make a well-examined exploration of traditional wisdom and infuse that with our best modern creativity. 

We endeavor to awaken deeper curiosity and wonder in all our participants, nurturing the joy of learning and the drive to make the best of every opportunity for learning, personal growth, professional development, and service to the greater good — often all at once. Rather than spoon-feeding information to our participants, we focus on creating a supportive environment for discovery so that motivated learners can make connections for themselves (which helps facilitates deeper understanding and insight with more sticking power).



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 Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training workshops in Eco-Architecture, Earthen Building, Sustainable Living, or Compassionate Living (or an equivalent programme) before formal acceptance into the Internship (see programme schedule on the bottom half of our homepage). For qualified applicants living outside India, other accommodations can be made on a case-by-case basis (see below).

How It Works: Structure & Format of the Internship Programme

The Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture at Dharmalaya Institute consists of several brief, intensive training workshops followed by extended practice periods. Both are necessary and equally important. The intensive training workshops 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 Dharmalaya Institute’s 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 12 to 21 days in duration. All interns must complete at least four 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 three 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. See below.)

Commitments & Expectations

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

  • Working in a focused and diligent way, eight hours per day, six days per week. This includes doing a signficant amount of repetitive 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 while out in the surrounding community. This is critically important as you will be viewed by locals as a representative of Dharmalaya, so exemplary behavior at all times is required.
  • 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.
  • Taking on responsibility to help with various logistical and administrative tasks related to the construction projects and other aspects of the operations of the Institute.
  • 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 fully 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  principles and policies of Dharmalaya Institute and the requests of the Dharmalaya faculty and management (or your hosts if staying elsewhere) at all times. (For a detailed explanation of the code of conduct and expectations, see our Visitor Information page.) Note that there is a strict no-drug and no-alcohol policy, and any violation (not only on campus but also in the surrounding area) would result in being immediately expelled from the Internship (without any refund or other compensation) and banned from the Institute.
  • Keeping yourself informed about the programme calendar for the internship (which you can always find on the bottom half of our homepage) and making your travel arrangements accordingly. If you have any schedule conflicts, discuss them with the Dharmalaya faculty far in advance in order to try to work out a mutually-agreeable solution. (Long-term interns will have the option to take a two-week break after every three months, subject to approval of the dates by the faculty, but all interns are expected to participate fully while residing at Dharmalaya Institute.) 
  • 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.
  • All interns must participate in an evaluation process, which includes detailed self-evaluations, programme evaluations, and performance reviews.

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.

We 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.

What Interns Should Not Expect

Everyone is happier when expectations are realistic. To support all prospective interns to have clear and realistic expectations about the Internship, we bring the following points your attention: 

  • Do not expect a holiday in the mountains. You will be working very hard — maybe harder than you’ve ever worked before. The Internship is designed for people who really want to put in the effort to get the most from the experience that they can — and also give as much as they can. During the workshops and practicum periods, you won’t have time to explore the area, go trekking, etc. (If you want to plan a trek or other such experience, you could do so after the end of your Internship.)
  • Do not expect to do design work. The focus of the Internship is on learning to build by doing physical work on site. Most of the design is done by more experienced architects. Very long-term interns (staying nine months to a year or longer) might eventually get a chance to be involved in some design work, but it is not guaranteed, and is not a focal point of the Internship. 
  • Do not expect to be sitting at a desk or using a computer or other digital devices. Our interns spend most of their time outside, doing actual building work on site with their own hands. You’re welcome to bring a laptop or tablet if you wish, but it isn’t required and you probably won’t be using it much, as we design primarily on paper and in situ.  In fact, Dharmalaya Institute strongly encourages digital detox and expects participants to be present with the people and activities here rather than preoccupied with digital devices.
  • Do not expect to stand back and watch others do the work, or to have someone else do it for you. All interns work full-time with their own hands, and likewise everyone participates in the cooking, cleaning, and other tasks related to keeping the community running smoothly. 
  • Do not expect to do work only related to architecture. Though you’ll certainly do a lot of hands-on building, you also will spend a significant amount of time learning and practicing a broad range of activities related to sustainable thriving, as well as a significant amount of time doing tasks unrelated to architecture but essential to the functioning of the Institute (which might include, for example, gardening, landscaping, orienting and training your juniors, helping with administrative tasks, etc.). This is a great opportunity for those interested in gaining diverse experiences, but if you aren’t excited about this then it’s probably better for you to apply elsewhere because it’s a significant and important part of the holistic Internship experience here.
  • Do not expect to have interaction with ‘clients’ as such. Here, the ‘client’ is usually the Institute itself. Long-term interns might eventually have the opportunity to make a site visit to other building projects and thus might meet real-world clients, but that is not guaranteed and is not a main objective of the Internship.
  • Do not expect to have a lot of personal or socializing time. We tend to stay quite busy here, and most of the socialization happens at mealtimes. You will have a little bit of personal time most evenings (except during workshops), but some evenings there will be group activities (e.g. presentations, discussions, special projects, meditation sessions, etc.). In short, be mentally prepared for most days to be pretty full.
  • Most importantly, do not expect to be unchanged by the Internship. If you were to leave as the same person you were when you arrived, then both you and we would have failed. The purpose of the Internship is to catalyze profound change and empowerment. The ideal intern in this programme is someone who strongly wants that kind of deep and holistic transformation.

Important Notes

1. The Internship is a serious commitment. If you think the internship programme might be too demanding for you (or if its sessions don’t fit with your schedule), then you might consider one of Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training workshops (see programme schedule here) or simply applying for a volunteer position at Dharmalaya instead.

2. 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, following all rules of the Institute and upholding its values, and being dependable in performing the required work (both on site and in community life) with a positive attitude and good results.

3. 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.

4. 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 outlined below).

5. Current students of architecture or engineering who require a letter of participation signed by a licensed architect may be required to spend at least one month of their internship working as an intern in an architecture firm affilated with Dharmalaya Institute, so that one of our licensed architect partners can certify that all academic requirements have been met. Exact timing for this would depend on availability of internship seats with that licensed architect. Be ware that you might have to be flexible about this, and you will be responsible for organising any related travel, and paying any expenses for outside accommodation, food, transportation, etc.

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 without advance notice.

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 four such intensive training workshops (each of which is generally one to four weeks in duration). For those with the most serious interest, we strongly recommend completing a full year 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., at all the different stages in the construction of a building (and it would also increase your chances of being involved in the design process as some stage). 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 750-1500 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 building-related training workshop, all interns will pay the full tuition fee for the workshop (generally around Rs 750-1500 per day at present). 
  • For the second building-related workshop, interns receive a 25% tuition discount in exchange for helping to guide the newer participants.
  • For the third such 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 building-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 and/or taking on other responsibilities at the Institute (subject to available space). 

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

Costs for Food & Lodging at Dharmalaya: During the extended practicum periods (meaning any time other than the intensive training workshops or other periodic special programmes), interns must cover their costs for food and lodging at Dharmalaya Institute by making payments every Saturday, at least for the first four months of the Internship (see below).

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 at least four months may qualify for discounted meals during extended practicum 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 100-150/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 during the Internship programme is subject to change according to circumstances, but you can find an example of our 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 join the programme in batches, which arrive on a fixed date at the beginning of a new session. There are typically four to six such sessions each year. Each of these sessions begins with an intensive orientation and training workshop usually lasting between 10 and 21 days. When you submit your application, you must select one of these workshops to attend as your initial orientation and training (no exceptions, unless you have already completed one of Dharmalaya Institute’s training workshops, in which case your start date is more flexible). All interns must complete at least four of these training workshops before the internship can be considered complete, and preference is given to interns who commit to longer terms.

The next available training workshop dates are:

  • 23 October – 2 November 2019 
  • 10–13 November 2019  (dates tentative, not yet confirmed)
  • 21 April – 2 May 2020 (dates tentative, not yet confirmed)
  • June 2020 (exact dates to be announced in late 2019 or early 2020)

NOTE: It is not possible to begin your internship at any time other than the dates listed above unless you already have completed a qualifying initial training workshop and you already have been accepted to the Internship. (If you have already completed your intitial training workshop and have received a formal acceptance letter for 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 before the start of your Internship, you are welcome (and encouraged) to apply to work at Dharmlaya Institute as a regular volunteer during one of our posted Volunteer Work Periods. Please note there is no formal training programme or academic supervision for regular volunteers, 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 schedule of Dharmalaya Institute’s workshops on the bottom half of our homepage. The schedule includes information about upcoming programmes and dates, and each confirmeed programme has a link to its own page that describes the activities and also the relevant costs, etc. All interns must read and follow the schedule, and you are responsible for making your travel plans accordingly and paying the published fees. Any questions about the schedule should be addressed to the faculty so that there is clarity for all interns about what will be happening when and how the interns are to participate.


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

Enrolment in the internship programme is subject to a three-part application process: written application, personal interview, and training workshop. 

The standard application process for the Internship is as follows:

  1. Study the following pages of our website carefully, as they contain information that every prospective intern needs to understand clearly and consider carefully before applying: the Internship description page (the page you’re reading now), the Visitor Information page, and the FAQDo not proceed with your application before studying all of these pages closely.
  2. Apply online for one of Dharmalaya Institute’s training workshops related to building, e.g. Sustainable Thriving Intensive, Compassionate Living Intensive, Earthen Building, Earthen Interiors, Vernacular Eco-architecture, etc. Check the schedule of upcoming programmes on the bottom half of our homepage, choose a workshop that best fits your interests and your schedule, and then submit the application form for that specific workshop. While completing the workshop application form, mention your interest in the Internship. (Note that your application for a training workshop is separate from the Internship application, and acceptance for a workshop does not indicate acceptance for the Internship itself.)
  3. Submit the online application for the Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture. You can do this either before your first workshop, during the workshop, or after the workshop. We generally recommend submitting your Internship application at the same time as your workshop application if you’re sure you want to apply for the Internship, but you could also wait until your first workshop experience before deciding whether to submit the Internship application.
  4. Participate in an interview with our faculty. After we receive your application for the Internship, the next step is to have an interview. This can be done either by Skype/video call or in person (e.g. at your first workshop). Again, we recommend scheduling the interview earlier rather than later.
  5. Complete your first training workshop at Dharmalaya Institute. After your interview and your first training workshop, we will be able to give you a final decision about whether you are accepted into the Internship.

Please understand that the training workshop itself is the most important part of the application process, and in most cases* we cannot make a decision about an applicant’s acceptance to the Internship until you have completed your first workshop, so applicants who have not completed a training workshop should not assume they will be accepted to the Internship (because the decision can’t be made until we see how the the applicant participates in the workshop). This is especially relevant to college students who need to do their internship on a fixed schedule. For this reason, the standard and recommended procedure is for interested students to complete one of Dharmalaya Institute’s workshops before the time when you want or need to begin your Internship. For example, if you are a student and you have a fixed time period in which you are required to do your internship (say 1st January until 30th June, just for example), then we recommend that you do not wait until 1st January to do your first workshop; it would be much better to do your first workshop at least a month or two before your desired start date for the Internship (1st Jan in this example) so that there would be plenty of time for you to choose another internship elsewhere in case either (a) you are not accepted to the Internship or (b) you decide during your first training workshop that the internship at Dharmalaya Institute isn’t really what you wanted.

*Note for international applicants: There is an exception for qualifying applicants who reside outside India. If your international travel plans depend on whether you are accepted to the Internship, then in lieu of completing a workshop prior to acceptance, we can conduct an extensive Skype interview so that you can receive confirmation of acceptance before booking your travel.

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 inspired to make the commitments outlined above, you may complete the internship application form here.