Warm, bushy valleys protected by stringent tall and cold mountains and gigantic and diverse ecosystems directed by roaring magnification rivers narrate the natural symphony of Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh is widely known for its handicrafts, culture, cuisine, flora, fauna and tourist destinations. But, amongst these, there is this one influential entity that gives Himachal Pradesh its unique Identity, which is Kathkuni architecture.

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Sri Maa Bhimakali Temple_©https://epuja.co.in/product-details.php?puja_id=1953&page=Sri-Maa-Bhimakali-Temple-Sarahan-Shimla-HimachalPradesh

Disappearing structural beauty

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The rapid transformation of the built environment _©Raghuvanshy, G. (2023b) The story of Kath Kuni – Himal Southasian. https://www.himalmag.com/the-story-of-kath-kuni-preserving-vernacular-architecture-himalaya-2021/.

The rapid development initiatives are influencing communities universally and damaging the roots of the generational societies in this trend of headless blind mimicking. Trends are set in one part of the world, and then the whole world just starts rapidly reflecting those ideologies in their part of the world, without even justifying the context of the trend. The innovative sensation caused in one particular part of the world serves their regional climate, culture, and local morals, then how can a blind reflection of that sensation justify itself in an opposite part of the world? And, here, it all fails. 

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“Kath Kuni architecture_©Fort Hotel” (Kath kuni) (no date). https://www.zehren.com/portfolio-view/kata-kuli-hotel/.

Long story short, like many other prime aspects of life, architecture is also becoming a part of this blind mimicry, which is cruelly resulting in the extinction of sensible vernacular architectural styles. Himachal Pradesh’s kathkuni architecture is also now becoming a part of disappearing architectural beauties. But before this style becomes one of the lost beauties, let’s revisit Kathkuni architecture’s warm footprints in Himachal Pradesh’s cold valleys.

Generational sustainability

The literal meaning of kath is wood, and kuni is corner. From this, one can conclude that wood is the dominant character of this construction, which also secures the corners of Himachal Pradesh’s artistic structures. Practically yes, the joineries in this Himachal Pradesh’s vernacular architecture are made of wood. Not only this, wood is also used as horizontal beams through crisscross bracings. 

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Wood joineries at the corner_©Graduation project on the Kath-kuni architecture in India (no date). https://www.tudelft.nl/en/education/information-and-experience/student-stories/graduation-project-on-the-kath-kuni-architecture-in-india

Himachal Pradesh lies in the Northern region of India where the climate is cold and where to get natural warmth you need to rely on nature. Himachal Pradesh from the Vedic period has shown the world the value of natural elements for human survival. Hence, wood and its natural warmth have been cherished through centuries in Himachal Pradesh’s vernacular construction techniques. Through generational experimentation on construction techniques with varied available wood, Himachal Pradesh Thauvis ( the artisans who build these structures) came to know the strengths of the Deodar. Deodar, which is available in abundance in this hilly region, assured artisans about its structural capabilities. In Himachal Pradesh Deodar is praised in architectural interventions of Kathkuni through the strength it provided in the natural havocs like earthquakes, through the aromatic essence it provided to keep termites and insects away, through the moderate softness it provided to create intricate aesthetic woodwork, and through the durability which is insured by surviving in this brutally cold climate for years.

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Amalgamation of stone and wood_©Thanks, N.J. (2023) The Lego-Like Kath Kuni Structures in Himachal Pradesh – Paper planes. https://www.joinpaperplanes.com/the-lego-like-kath-kuni-structures-in-himachal-pradesh/.

Not only this, Kathkuni architecture is a beautiful amalgamation of locally available wood and stone. This Himachal Pradesh’s native construction technique is a marriage of alternate wood and stone layers, which is usually nailless and cured with wood notched and lap-jointed methodology. This provides structural flexibility in the harsh terrain of Himachal Pradesh. Slate tiles are used for roofing, which are waterproof and hence provide protection from rain and snow. Also, the weight of these slate tiles applies forced downward pressure and consequently, adds stability to the structure. Generally, the entire construction process takes one year to complete, because it highly depends on the availability of wood and stone.

Conscious ingenious construction

Himachal Pradesh comes under one of the most devastated seismic zones in India. Hence, structural stability in this region is one of the great concerns. This natural vulnerability of Himachal Pradesh made this vernacular architecture evolve in such a way that it could withstand seasonal earthquakes. Horizontal wooden beams induce flexibility in structure and tightly packed stones in those wooden beams provide stability, and stabilize the effect of seismic activities. Hence, during earthquakes in Himachal Pradesh, these structures shake with the movement but do not collapse due to their flexible structural geometry.

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Wood and stone construction_©The Himalayan Vernacular: Kath-Khuni Architecture | Sahapedia (no date c). https://www.sahapedia.org/the-himalayan-vernacular-kath-khuni-architecture

Orientation of the buildings offering longer sides to face valleys eventually makes the shelters less susceptible to seismic forces. Parallel alignment of structures to the Himachal Pradesh’s contours also provides natural strength to the setting. 

In harsh winters, modern concrete structures in Himachal Pradesh need expensive heating techniques. This vernacular intervention of Kathkuni retains heat naturally in the structure with the help of its thick double wood and stone-stacked walls. Also, mud plaster and gaps between wooden beams allow the free flow of air. Even smaller fenestrations of the buildings conserve heat. Also, longer facades that face South maximize the low-angle solar gain in winter. Hence, Kathkuni architecture becomes self-sufficient in winter because of its heat insulation.

On this account, this ingenious construction technique of Himachal Pradesh is proven to be excellent climate-responsive and earthquake resistant architecture.

Wisdom in Kath Kuni Architectural Story

This unique vernacular construction technique in Himachal Pradesh not only respects the climate of the region but also values the natural entities they live with. These multi-storey structures also accommodate cattle in their shelters and also provide them with a warm habitat in such harsh weather. The cattle sheds at the lower grounds of the structures also help in generating more warmth at the ground level which eventually rises and provides additional warmth to the structure. 

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Typical kathkuni shelter_©Raghuvanshy, G. (2023c) The story of Kath Kuni – Himal Southasian. https://www.himalmag.com/the-story-of-kath-kuni-preserving-vernacular-architecture-himalaya-2021/.

The diverse typologies in these constructions include single cuboid structures, double cuboid structures, triple cuboid structures and their variants. These typologies depend upon the individual economy and status. Princely accommodations which are called Darbargadhs, Palaces, Temples, and Granaries are also varied typologies of this vernacular construction technique of Himachal Pradesh. Hence, this construction technique not only caters to higher economic classes but also respects lower-income groups and provides them with warm shelters.

Last but not least

Though rapid urbanization is threatening this vernacular construction technique of Himachal Pradesh, some artists are engaging themselves in the revival of this peculiar beauty. Studio North located in Naggar is one of those brave representatives, who is consciously making efforts to conserve this ingenious technique in Himachal Pradesh.

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New age Kathkuni structure_©Shanghvi, D. (2023) Apple Farmstay in northern India revives the ‘Kath-kuni’ style of architecture. https://www.stirworld.com/see-features-apple-farmstay-in-northern-india-revives-the-kath-kuni-style-of-architecture.

Hence, in conclusion, the rising conservational efforts may be smaller in number but maybe at least those small steps will lead to something optimistic outcome, which will regain the value of this vernacular kathkuni architecture technique in this snowy region of Himachal Pradesh.


The Himalayan Vernacular: Kath-Khuni Architecture | Sahapedia (no date). https://www.sahapedia.org/the-himalayan-vernacular-kath-khuni-architecture

Indigenous building practices of Himachal Pradesh (2014).

Raghuvanshy, G. (2023) The story of Kath Kuni – Himal Southasian. https://www.himalmag.com/the-story-of-kath-kuni-preserving-vernacular-architecture-himalaya-2021/


Alvarez, L. (2023) ‘The Apple Farm Stay Restoration, Kotkhai, Himachal Pradesh, India by Architect Suri and associates,’ AmazingArchitecture, 12 December. https://amazingarchitecture.com/houses/the-apple-farm-stay-restoration-kotkhai-himachal-pradesh-india-by-architect-suri-and-associates

Bhagat, M. (2023) ‘The Kath Kuni Revivalist: An Architect On A Mission To Restore Himachal’s Traditional Architecture,’ The Indian Express, 11 April. https://indianexpress.com/article/et-al-express-insight/the-kath-kuni-revivalist-an-architect-on-a-mission-to-restore-himachals-traditional-architecture/

Dutta, S. (2023) Architect Rahul Bhushan strives to restore Kath Khuni Architecture of Hills – Hill Post. https://hillpost.in/2023/10/architect-rahul-bhushan-strives-to-restore-kath-khuni-architecture-of-hills/121842/

Kath-khuni architecture of Himachal Pradesh, India (2014). https://www.slideshare.net/mansiarch/kath-khuni-of-himachal-pradesh-autosavedpdf-low

Vernacular hill (2014). https://www.slideshare.net/priyachoudhary786/vernacular-hill

Vernacular Architecture of Himachal Pradesh – Kath kuni architecture (2018). https://www.slideshare.net/MeghaSanadya/vernacular-architecture-of-himachal-pradesh-kath-kuni-architecture


Manjiree, Introvert at heart, but a person who loves to express her narratives like an extrovert. The term “hungry learner” may not fully succeed to explain her philosophy, but could give you a tiny teaser of her curious mind. Currently, in the process of exploring the true sustenance of architecture.