Nestled amidst the serene landscapes of the Himalayas, Dharmalaya Institute is a charitable organization that advocates for sustainable and holistic living practises. They primarily focus on conducting a series of educational programmes that deliver expertise in the fields of community aid, green vocational training, holistic personal development and healthcare, economic self-sustenance with the main objective of promoting a comprehensive approach towards introspective service-learning, sustainable development and conscious ecotourism. 

Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living – Pioneering Sustainable Architecture of Regional India - Sheet1
Dharmalaya Institute main building_©designterrains

The firm believes in amalgamating traditional knowledge with creative innovation to achieve a harmonious balance between compassion, ecology, sustainability and prosperity. Their ideology and approach revolve around nurturing and transforming through retrospection and reflection of our deeds, skills and virtues and the lasting impact they have on the environment. The firm fosters sustainable development not just through building practises but also through the smallest of changes in our everyday lifestyles, from food, clothes and utilities to habits and daily routines.

Eco Campus

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Multipurpose Hall that serves as a classroom as well as a place for yoga/meditation_©

Located in the picturesque settings of the Himalayan foothills, every single part of the campus is a living embodiment of sustainable practices, a microcosm of a larger ecosystem comprising nature, culture, economy, etc. The campus comprises completely earthen buildings that are seismically reinforced and the directional alignment of each building is cautiously planned to optimize solar heating and cooling conditions. 

However, the green eco-buildings do not solely represent the institute’s ideology and sensitivity towards natureto try achieving a balance between the natural, built, and cultivated environment while keeping the community at heart is what the campus strives towards. 

The interplay of materials, site and ecology

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Planting along the denuded slope_©

One of the key lessons of Dharmalaya’s approach to sustainability is through incorporating consciousness into ecology. The most primary practice is through the use of natural and local materials, thereby preventing the overall energy loss and environmental wastage through transportation. For example, during monsoons, the collapse of the hillside made the main building vulnerable to landslides. 

Instead of opting to the highly suggested fixation by the consultants, to outsource the work to labourers who would use concrete to construct retaining walls, they took a different route. The team planted indigenous plants on the hillsides whose roots would hold the soil together, which was a more cost-effective method that had the perfect blend of minimum ecological damage with the optimal use of sustainable materials in the long run. 

Edible Landscapes and Organic farming

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Organic gardens_©

Organic gardens have been one of the prime focuses of Dharmalaya. Some of the key factors which drove them to practice organic farming are the health hazards that come alongside the use of unnatural chemical-laced insecticides and fertilizers, which not only affect humans but also cause severe ecological damage to wildlife and nature’s elements by preventing contamination of underground water. It also saves a lot of money as it is very inexpensive compared to chemicals and also tastes better. They showcase the best practices by providing hands-on training to local villagers for high-yield organic farming.

One of the most sought-after ideas is that of edible gardens, the central concept of which is the beautification of the surroundings with a functional ability to be a source of food. It utilizes land very effectively because it’s a phenomenal landscaping tool that provides aesthetics as well as sustenance. Not only does this save money and curate beautiful surroundings but it also protects the environment and acts as a meal or in some cases, a medicinal remedy.

Sustainability through personal growth

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Compassionate living_©

At a macro level, the institute promotes mindfulness through eco-sensitive buildings and other practises that would reduce the overall carbon footprint but the true driving forces of change are individuals themselves. Dharmalaya seeks to induce awareness through the practise of meditation and cognizance of one’s surroundings, thus, curating an interdependent and robust system wherein the system and the individual, both flourish.

Responsible Waste and Energy Management

Every corner of the site has a practical lesson to speak about sustainability, from solar cooking, handcrafted stoves, utensils, soaps, cleansers to high-yield organic farming and composting, ecological toilets, greywater recycling, rainwater harvesting, low tech solar energy; the institute truly reflects its zero-waste and energy efficiency goals. 

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Upcycled Plastic waste used in plinth of seating_©

Another important aspect of waste management is upcycling. An example of the same is the use of upcycled plastic waste in the outdoor seating area. The inside of the benches was filled with plastic bottles ‘blocks’ that are plastic bottles filled with softer, plastic materials that cannot be reused or recycled until the bottles are densely packed. The voids in between the bottles were filled with broken glass pieces (another application of waste management), soil and rubble until maximum compaction was achieved. 

Thus, the name ‘Dharmalaya’ firmly stands for what it means, a repository of energy, virtue, potential, knowledge, experience and responsibility within the larger context of holistic living.


Surabhi is a student of architecture and is trying to figure out how she can contribute to the field and society. She finds architectural writing as an escape to a world full of possibilities and hope. Her curiosity, zest to learn, explore and share, is what keeps her going.