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The Dharmalaya Institute’s Earthen Masonry Training programme is a formal, hands-on training course covering the masonry aspects of earthen building (including adobe brickmaking and bricklaying, cob, mud renders, stonework, etc.). It provides hands-on training and supervision by experienced masons as well as a basic theoretical component to explore the whys of earthen building.

The programme proceeds along an educational path consisting of three levels: trainee mason, junior mason, and full mason (all of which are defined in detail at the bottom of this page).

Who Can Enrol in the Earthen Masonry Training Programme?

The Earthen Masonry programme is open to everyone (subject to limited availability). It is designed to serve all people interested in developing proficiency with earthen building, including rural villagers from low-income (and historically ‘low caste’) backgrounds who otherwise might spend most of their lives working as ‘unskilled’ labourers earning minimum wage. The programme also encourages village women, who customarily have neither sought nor been encouraged to seek training in such skilled building professions, and who historically have earned lower wages than men for the same construction work, to follow the path to certification as earthen masons, thereby increasing their skills, their wages, their self-esteem, their standing in the community, and their ability to help their children to learn and prosper.

Finances & Accommodations

The Earthen Masonry training programme has two tracks: an on-the-job training (OJT) opportunity for low-income villagers, and a service-learning opportunity for everyone else.

OJT for low-income villagers:
For Indian participants of the lowest income level who live in rural villages and have not done post-secondary study, Dharmalaya Institute offers an on-the-job-training (OJT) programme that is tuition-free. Once basic competence is achieved, participants on this track are paid for the hours they work (subject to limited availability of paid positions due to budgetary constraints). Pay levels are according to the proficiency level a given trainee has achieved, as per the evaluations of the programme faculty. Pay for trainee masons is at the base level (the prevailing local minimum wage), while pay for junior masons is higher, and pay for full masons is at the standard local rate for skilled masons. (Master masons, being rare and in great demand, set their own rates.)

Service-learning programme for all other participants:
For all Indian participants other than those described above, and for all participants from other countries, the programme is structured as a service-learning exchange in which trainees participate on a voluntary (unpaid) basis while also completing at least four of Dharmalaya Institute’s intensive training courses or workshops in earthen building or vernacular eco-architecture (for which tuition fees apply). Trainees begin the programme by participating in one of our training workshops, and then spend time practicing what they have learned by doing voluntary work as a part of our team (alongside our skilled masons), and then take another training course, followed by another practice period, and so on, until the trainee attains the desired level of proficiency. There is a modest tuition fee for the training workshops (which is gradually discounted for each successive workshop after the first) but there is no tuition fee for the ongoing practice periods. (See schedule of upcoming programmes here.)

Food & accommodations:
Room and board is not included in the Earthen Masonry Training programme, and all participants are responsible for their own living expenses, including food, lodging, transportation, etc. Local participants typically stay at their own homes and walk to Dharmalaya daily, while visiting participants usually stay at Dharmalaya Institute, but are also free to stay at a local guest house or residence if they prefer. (For information on accommodation options, as well as costs for food and lodging at Dharmalaya, see this page.)

Duration of the Programme

For all participants, the minimum time commitment for the programme is six months, which is the bare minimum amount of time required to achieve a useful degree of proficiency. Please note that attaining a given level of proficiency depends on various factors, including the diligence and aptitude of each person and also seasonal working conditions, so we cannot guarantee the attainment of a particular level of proficiency or a particular time frame.

For planning purposes, however, it is estimated that most engaged and hard-working participants would be able to attain the junior mason level within six to nine months if working diligently full time (seven hours per day, six days per week, with occasional holidays), though it might take longer in some cases. If your schedule does not allow you to join us for at least six months consecutively, it is possible to make multiple visits until a total of at least six months is achieved.

Prerequisites & Requirements

Applicants for the Earthen Masonry Training programme should meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Language: Trainees must be able to understand English, and at least basic Hindi is also recommended (though not absolutely necessary).
  • Time: Trainees must commit to a minimum of six months doing full-time work and study in the programme. Longer commitments of 6-12 months or more are strongly recommended, but the absolute minimum requirement is six months. 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 workshops: 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 Earthen Masonry Training programme (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).

Completion & Certification

Upon successful completion of the Earthen Masonry Training course, participants undertake a final exam and then receive a certificate indicating the level of proficiency they have attained. Those who have not yet attained their desired level of proficiency at the completion of a programme, but who wish to continue their training until they reach that status, are welcome to continue (or return in the future) until the desired level is achieved. Please note that this programme is rooted in the vernacular tradition of direct transmission of skills and knowledge from master to student, and not in the academic study of architecture or engineering. The certificate is recognised by the Earthville Network, an international NGO working to raise standards of sustainable living practices worldwide.

How to Apply for Enrolment in the Earthen Masonry Training Programme

Applicants for the programme should read all of the information above and then complete our volunteer application form, specifying the ‘Earthen Masonry Training Course’ as your desired volunteer activity. If you are a low-income Indian national seeking employment through this programme, please mention that in your application.

All applicants should read our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and you will find the link to the application form on that FAQ page. After we receive and process your application, we will contact you to let you know if you have been accepted in the programme. If the programme enrolment is full at the time of your application, we will offer to place your name on the waitlist.


The Four Levels of Proficiency in Earthen Masonry

For the purposes of training, evaluation, and certification, the Dharmalaya Institute recognises four levels of proficiency in Earthen Masonry: trainee mason, junior mason, full mason, and master mason. These are described in detail below.

A trainee mason should be able to do the following:

  • Make mud mixes of proper consistency for adobe bricks, cob, renders, etc.
  • Make adobe bricks of good quality and manage their storage properly.
  • Do basic earthen bricklaying in simple bonds with good plumb and levels (making continual use of plumb bob, water level, string, etc.) while avoiding the most common errors.
  • Do basic earthen renders (i.e. base coat and second coat) with good plumb and levels.
  • Manage the materials and tools on a building site efficiently and responsibly.
  • Act as a competent and dependable assistant to a more experienced mason and learn actively from him/her.

A junior mason should be able to do all of the above plus the following:

  • Do more complicated bricklaying (e.g. alternative bonds, keying different materials together), keeping acceptable plumb and level with less frequent use of instruments (e.g. plumb bob, level, etc.).
  • Do basic stone masonry, including foundations, plinth, and walls.
  • Do final plasters and earthen flooring.
  • Do common reinforced concrete work (e.g. plinth band, lintel band, slab roof, and ferrocrete).
  • Incorporate wooden elements (e.g. door and window frames) into walls.
  • Do basic mending and repairs of earthen structures.
  • Be able to work reasonably quickly while maintaining a professionally acceptable quality of work.
  • Be a positive, dependable, and professional team player with a good work ethic.

A full mason should be able to do all of the above plus the following:

  • Handle all common masonry requirements competently, including more challenging features (e.g. staircases, arches, corbels, split-level joins, etc.).
  • Be able to build walls with good plumb and level without the aid of instruments, but still maintain the good habit of using the plumb bob and level periodically just to be sure.
  • Build with most any type of soil, distinguishing between soil types and able to use the methods most appropriate for a given type of soil (e.g. adobe, cob, rammed earth, earthbags, compressed blocks, etc.).
  • Work with slate and tiles (e.g. flooring, wall tiling, skirting, etc.).
  • Work with granite and marble (e.g. counters, flooring, etc.).
  • Work with lime (e.g. limecrete, lime plasters, naturally-tinted whitewashes, etc.).
  • Work with modern industrial materials when needed (e.g. kiln-fired brick, ceramic tiles, reinforced concrete, etc.)
  • Do all manner of repairs, renovations, and modifications seamlessly (leaving no trace after completion).
  • Collaborate well with workers of other disciplines (e.g. carpenters, electricians, plumbers, et al.)
  • Have a basic understanding of how to read a building plan, do a line-out, and build foundations and walls according to the plan with proper orientation and dimensions.
  • Consistently uphold an excellent work ethic (e.g. showing a personal commitment to achieving the best quality of work, being punctual, working diligently even when unsupervised, communicating clearly and honestly, taking responsibility for one’s work and standing behind it to ensure client satisfaction, treating all people involved with respect and kindness, etc.).

A master mason should be able to do all of the above plus the following:

  • Handle the most challenging masonry tasks with finesse (e.g. fireplaces and ovens, clean facing-brick walls, complex brick/stone patterns, clean and consistent pointing, perfectly smooth and clean tile grout, ornamental designs, etc.).
  • Do very fine renders, including coloured and textured plasters.
  • Have a refined sensibility for proportion, symmetry, and nuanced detail.
  • Manage a building site efficiently (e.g. keeping the site clean, safe, and organized; foresee needs for materials and have them on site before they are needed; manage a team of masons and labourers effectively and professionally; ensure proper care of tools, materials, and the land; etc.).
  • Have an excellent understanding of how to read a building plan and translate it into a building accurately, and communicating well with all concerned parties (e.g. client, architect, work crew, etc.).
  • Understand the essential principles of structural engineering (e.g. load, corbelling, cantilevering, etc.) well enough to be able to ensure that every construction is structurally sound (and to propose modifications to the architect/client clearly and respectfully if it seems necessary or potentially beneficial).
  • Understand the principles and techniques of earthen masonry well enough to teach, train, and inspire others.

The Dharmalaya Institute’s Earthen Masonry Training programme provides formal training up to the level of full mason. For those exceptional artisans determined to go further and put in the years of learning and practice required to attain the level of master mason, there is the possibility of arranging an individualised, long-term plan including apprenticeships and work opportunities to help one reach that exalted level of mastery.


How to Apply

All applicants should read our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and you will find the link to the application form on that FAQ page. After we receive and process your application, we will contact you to let you know if you have been accepted in the programme. If the programme enrolment is full at the time of your application, we will offer to place your name on the waitlist.