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Introduction to Earthen Building (1-13 Jan 2018)


Event: Introductory training workshop (residential)

Topic: Construction of Kangra-style earthen buildings

When: 1-13 January 2018 (must attend from the start and remain for the duration), followed by an optional extended volunteer period

Language: English (with Hindi translation if requested)

Facilitators: Dharmalaya Institute’s junior faculty, artisans, and interns

Description: Twelve-day residential workshop to provide introductory hands-on training in some of the foundational skills of earthen building — specifically focusing primarily on interiors and finishing work — in the neo-traditional Kangra style of esteemed eco-architect Didi Contractor. Learn to create and apply earthen renders (mud plaster) in an adobe structure, as well as other interior work (which, depending on weather and the needs on site at the time, might include flooring, fine finishing, etc.). The workshop will be in two parts: The first week will be an intensive training workshop, combining both theory and practice. The second week will be a practicum during which you can improve your skills and understanding by working with our team of artisans. (There will also be the option to stay on for the Volunteer Work Period after the workshop if you wish to deepen your skills and understanding further through practice on site.)

What is ‘natural building’ and why should I care? See this page for an introduction.

After the introductions, orientation, and general overview of the programme, the workshop will focus primarily on hands-on training and practice. There will be theory classes, presentations, and discussions in the evenings.

The hands-on work will include various projects around the Dharmalaya campus, including interior work on several earthen structures that are in various stages of completion. We provide training in some of the fundamental techniques, and then step back and give everyone time and space to practice them by working alongside our team of village artisans.

For those who wish to practice yoga and/or meditation, our meditation hall will be available in the mornings before breakfast and in the evenings after the evening sessions.

Activities might include the following (depending on weather and circumstances)

  • Hands-on training in Kangra-style neo-traditional earthen architecture, which may include:
    • Making proper earthen mixes using local best practices
    • Earthen renders (mud plasters)
    • Wood/bamboo finishing work (sanding, varnishing, etc.)
    • Flooring (soling, slate tiling, polishing, etc.)
  • Water management (possibly drainage and gutter work, rainwater harvesting, etc.)
  • Possibly a session or two of organic gardening or tree planting (weather permitting)
  • Other activities that vary with each programme

What to expect

  • Rustic forested setting with a clean and simple ashram lifestyle in which everyone contributes to the running of the place, including cooking, cleaning, washing dishes and toilets, etc.
  • The days will be completely full: You’ll wake up early, work hard till 5:00pm, and then the evenings during the intensive training week will be occupied with presentations and discussions.
  • You’ll spend the whole twelve days at the Dharmalaya Institute without leaving, in order to make the most of our short time together, and for the first six days you won’t have much personal time. So, prepare yourself mentally for being focused and squeezing the maximum learning out of every moment.
  • You will be working with your hands and body (including plenty of honest hard work!) for approximately six or seven hours per day on most days of the programme, so it is strongly recommended to be in reasonably good physical fitness when you arrive, and you should bring work clothes.
  • Architecture and design students please note: The focus is not on design, but rather on doing real-world work to gain understanding of the materials, methods, and underlying principles of vernacular eco-architecture.

Weather notice: The winter season is prone to sudden changes in weather, and there may be weather that limits our ability to do outdoor work, and obviously that is beyond our control. It is therefore advisable to have realistic expectations and a very flexible attitude, including a willingness to shift to indoor activities (such as classes, presentations, discussions, research/documentation projects, etc.) in case of problematic weather.

Also note: This is a very short introductory workshop, and only a few elements of earthen building practice can be covered in such a short span of time. For those who are serious about learning and practicing the techniques of earthen building, we strongly recommend staying after the end of the programme to volunteer for a while so that you can deepen your understanding and improve your skills by doing real-world, hands-on work alongside our local village artisans here on the Dharmalaya campus. An even better option for those with serious interest is to take multiple workshops and consider applying for our Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture and/or our Earthen Masonry Training Course


The total fee for the twelve-day workshop is Rs 9,000/-, inclusive of tuition, healthy meals, and comfortable accommodation in shared dormitories (and sometimes a private room may be available at additional cost). Transportation costs are not included. For low-income participants with unusual financial hardship, a limited number of work-study positions are available (please contact us for details).

(Note: The costs during the subsequent Volunteer Work Period are lower, as per the Institute’s standard sliding scale. See this page for details.)

Important Information

Before you pack for your trip to Dharmalaya Institute, please read the very important information on our Visitor Info page and our FAQ. If you have a specific question that is not answered there, contact us here and we’ll be happy to answer.

NOTE FOR STUDENTS SEEKING CERTIFICATES: This is not a certificate course. No certificate or letter will be provided (no exceptions).

Application, Registration & Deposit

Enrolment in this workshop is by application only and space is very limited, so advance registration and 50% nonrefundable deposit (Rs 4500) are required. Registrations are confirmed only after receiving the deposit, on a first-come-first-served basis. To apply, use this form. If we approve your application, we will reply with further instructions and information. The remaining balance of Rs 4500 will be payable upon arrival at Dharmalaya Institute (so be sure to bring enough cash with you). Alternatively, you could pay the full amount all at once in advance, if that is better for you than carrying cash.

If you are interested in possibly staying on after the workshop for the Volunteer Work Period, please say so in your application, and mention your proposed departure date (you can change it later if you wish, but we need to have an approximate idea for planning purposes).

For Participants with Indian Rupee Bank Accounts

You can make your nonrefundable 50% deposit either by in-person deposit at any HDFC branch, or electronically by bank transfer (intra-bank transfer for HDFC accounts, or NEFT for non-HDFC accounts). We will send bank details after your application is approved.

For Participants without Indian Rupee Bank Accounts

After we have approved your application and requested you to make the deposit, you can make your non-refundable 50% deposit securely by credit card, debit card, eCheck, or Payal. Just click the button below:

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