monastery kullu

H o u s i n g   u n d e r   t h e   H i m a l a y a

A Tibetan monastery located in the North of India in a small village named Kullu. The monks have traveled a long distance in search of a new place, a shelter that provides them comfort and safety, a place that they can call home.
A home that has been built quite quickly and as a result in some aspects not fully up to the comfort level that the monks deserve. Our challenge as a group was to improve the comfort of the inhabitants of the Dagpo Shedrub Ling Monastery whilst promoting sustainable ways of building in Himachal Pradesh.

We have visited the monastery in India and it has been such an incredible experience. I have learned so much, not only about building and construction in Kullu, but also about life itself. The way the monks live, the way they welcomed us and the way they are thankful for everything is something that is very inspiring. The monks make you appreciate the smaller things in life and remind you that the elements in life are something to be grateful for and not to be taken for granted.

During this project we have worked in a team of 16 people (crew 2), before us another team has already done lots of research (crew 1) on which we continued working. An enormous amount of research has been done for this project and a lot of experiences have been gained. I cannot even try to summarize this work on this webpage. We have made an encyclopaedia consisting of about 800 pages.
Throughout the project we worked in smaller teams, each focussing on different aspects so that together we could join our forces and create and deliver the best work possible. My team worked mostly on systems and utilities, making it our job to calculate the probable outcomes of each proposal.

In the end we came up with 4 design proposals for the monastery, which will be explained on this webpage. Next to this a reprogramming for the school and medical post, a new waste and water management system, a new sanitary building and different building systems were designed. However, this will not be discussed on this webpage because the main focus of the project (and that of my own contribution) was to come up with design proposals.
This was my Msc 2 Complex project 2017.


School monks

group photo

Crew 2


Monks studying


Laundry day

group photo

View over the Kullu valley


Temple facade

Methodology - Defining sustainability
To be able to design 'a sustainable renovation and extension to the monastery building that can be an example of sustainable building techniques for the Himalaya region', an approach to sustainability first had to be established.
In this project, the approach to sustainability was defined under four main categories to be able to approach the complexity of contextually specific needs for people in the Himalaya region, the environment they live in as well as the planet we all share. The four categories were; energy efficiency, circularity, socio-economic, and life span sustainability.
Although sometimes contradictory, all four of these themes were very important to consider in order to create the most appropriate decisions regarding the well-being of our planet and this project. The linking thread of the categories was the brief of the project stating the need to be fulfilled in form of comfort and general well-being at the monastery and its surrounding context.

energy efficiency

Energy efficiency
Deals with the fact that almost 40% of the worlds energy demand is caused by the built environment, putting huge strains on our natural resources and climate. Actions are required to reduce energy demands and introduce renewable energy sources without CO2 emissions. To compliment this the approach should be to ensure the availability of sustainable, affordable and reliable energy for all.


Focuses on a material approach that reduces the pressure on our resources and climate. The construction should be resilient, respond to and help the environmental and geological situations which occur in the area. It should also aim at creating closed material cycles and minimise pollutants.

socio-economic sustainability

Socio-economic sustainability
Considers the need to create a built environment that is affordable, healthy and cared for. Implementations should aim to be available for everyone to obtain the space they need to develop, while creating sustainable production and consumption patterns. In regards to the monastery, focus should also be on promoting the peacefulness and inclusiveness of the monastery in its political and cultural context.

life span

Life span
Understands that sustainability appears in different contexts of time as well as space. Therefore a critical analysis of future scenarios that might change the viability of sustainable solutions of today are needed.

General context
The Dagpo Shedrup monastery is located in Kais, in the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh. In order to be able to provide the monastery with design proposals on how to bring more comfort into the complex it is needed to understand the current conditions of the surroundings.

Climate: The weather in Himachal Pradesh is dependent on the season, but also on the height of the region. The heights differ from 700 up to 6000 metres. The average summer temperatures are 26 degrees celcius maximum and 13 degrees minimum. In winter the average temperatures are 13 degrees celcius maximum and -5 degrees minimum.
Climate change: India's climate is rapidly changing. Temperatures are rising, the amount of rainfall is getting less during monsoon and more during summer. The Beas River gets its water from glaciers and rainfall. Because of the climate changes the waterlevel of the river will drop, eventually causing the river to dry out.
Deforestation: Himachal Pradesh and the other states in nothern India suffer from massive deforestation caused by road building activities and hydro power projects.
River pollution: India is facing big challenges in managing its water resources, due to depletion of available freshwater resources, dropping water levels and quality. The Beas river is heavily polluted, mainly due to 'tourism and urbanization', because of the increase in extra waste and sewage.
Seismic zone: India is very sensitive for earthquakes, especially the northern part. Himachal Pradesh is located in a zone 5, which means it has a very high earthquake risk.



historical context

Mid 15th century
Dagpo Shedrup Ling Monastery was founded by Je Lodro Tenpa in south-eastern Tibet.
It became one of the three most important monasteries of south-eastern Tibet, with over 100 members.

historical context

Chinese occupation of Tibet: the monastery was taken over by the Chinese. Many monks were imprisoned and subjected to hard labour. A few monks fled to India.

historical context

Fifteen monks fled to India, including the Dagpo Rinpoche Jhampa Gyamtshog, and settled in the north west of India.
China Cultural Revolution: The monastery was demolished forcing the remaining monks to abandon it.

historical context

A small monastery in Bomdila in north-east India was made available for the monks, which grew to about 50 monks.

historical context

The use of a small monastery at the Tibetan Settlement of Mainpat in central India was offered by the Dalai Lama.
China 1983: Permission of the Chinese goverment to rebuild a small monastery which grew to about 80 monks.

historical context

The descision was made to search a different location for building a new monastery because of several reasons, under which a malaria endemic.
China 1995: New wave of repression. Many monks were forced to leave. Currently 50 monks are still living there under pressure of the Chinese administration and try to maintain their monastic tradition of study and practice.

historical context

Start of building the new monastery complex in Kais.

historical context

The monastic complex was consecrated by the Dalai Lama and he accepted the tittle of its abbot.

Monastery context
The Shedrun Dagpo Monastery is a place for Tibetan monks that took refuge in India because of several reasons. The most important reason was because their traditions where in jeaorpardy since the Chinesse invaded Tibet. The current monastery in Kais is now their permanent residence. Life of the monks is about practising their religion and their believes. Buddishm is the main focus and that is seen in how the monastery is arranged. The temple is located at the highest point of the monastery's plot, making it the most visible block and thereby emphasizing its importance. Puja's are held in the temple daily which (depending on the type of ceremony) can have a duration of 1 hour up to a whole days practice. The rest of the day the monks spend mostly by studying and meditating, which can be preformed in the monks rooms as well as the outdoor areas. The complex consists out of multiple building blocks which can host around 300 people, of which currently there are 71 pupils, 5 teachers and 200 monks.
The lifestyle, habits and use of space of the monks are a key element when it comes to understanding the full context of the project and the needs of the client. This must be respected and taken into account when coming up with new design solutions.


Monastery with its surroundings

Renovation proposals
Just over ten years after construction, the existing buildings of the monastery are in poor condition and in urgent need for extensive renovation to ensure comfort and well-being of the monks. In the current situation uninsulated walls and poorly sealed openings cause large amounts of heat loss which results in estimated indoor temperatures as low as 7 C in winter. To improve the comfort of the monastery three design proposals have been put forward based on the guidelines of achieving indoor temperatures of min. 19 C in winter and max. 27 C in summer. Since winter temperatures are currently the most critical ones for the health of the monks in the monastery these have been the primarily focus of the project.
Whilst it may seem like an easy solution to simply add a heating system to the existing building to reach the desired design temperatures, the large amount of energy needed to do this would result in unnecessarily large system needed, impacting the visual appearance of the monastery whilst being costly and have a negative impact on sustainability through large CO2 emissions. The focus of the proposals has therefore been to minimise the energy needed to heat the monastery through passive design solutions. Attention has also been given to the other sustainability aspects introduced earlier of circularity, socioeconomics and life span. Therefore the proposals are of different characters from small 'quick fix' solutions to long-term sustainability.
It should be noted that whilst proposal 03 is the preferred proposal for retrofitting the monastery, an option of rebuilding the monastery step by step should also be considered. Rebuilding could reduce cost and materials, as well as integrating a passive design with a more sound building able to deal with the event of earth quakes, something that is also currently lacking.
The following energy results have been calculated using the Passive Design Assistant program by ARUP.

current energy

current building

Excisting condition

Design proposal 1 Quick Fix
Design Proposal 1 responds to the monastery's direct need of implementations to improve the comfort in the monastery during winter time. It has been developed to increase the thermal comfort in an economical and time efficient way that can act as a solution for the monastery today, but should not be seen as a long-term solution as it still leaves the monastery with a large negative environmental impact. Instead it is a primary step to improve the living conditions at the monastery whilst planning for larger and future-proof implementations. All resources of this proposals have been selected mainly due to their local availability ensuring an easy and feasible implementation process.
The proposal consist of small yet efficient implementations focusing on the openings of the building where currently the largest heat loss occurs. Broken windows are to be repaired and sealed with new putty. Furthermore an insulating curtain is propososed to reduce heatloss further.
Doors are also to be sealed and the verandah proposed to be 'closed off' with translucent curtains which makes it an additional usable space in winter time as well as a temperature buffer improving the thermal performance of the building, especially on sunny days.
The heating system for this proposal focuses on personal comfort due to the infeasibility of an overreaching heating system caused by the still high energy loads.
This proposal further shows how simple and cost-efficient implementations can already save a lot of energy (up to 20%) and prepare the way for a more sustainable monastery.

design1 energy

design1 building

Design proposal 1

Design Propals 2 Small Impact Sustainability
Design Proposal 2 offers a more extensive renovation to increase the thermal performance and comfort of the monastery whilst minimising the impact on the life of the monastery during the renovation process.
Heat loss is minimised by insulating each room internally using natural materials like hemp on walls and ceiling which are non-toxic and biodegradable. Openings are proposed to be repaired and insulating curtains installed as in previous proposals. Moreover an additional polycarbonate sheet is placed to create a 'double window' for thermal performance.
The construction systems of the insulation has been chosen to provide simple construction using minimal amount of materials whilst achieving high thermal performance and can be implemented room-by-room to reduce disturbance in the monastery. Internal insulation do have its negative impact on the loss of thermal mass storage in the building which causes heat to be trapped in the rooms and not in the materials which has its impact on the cooling loads for this proposal. For a more efficient result external insulation is therefore better which will be discussed in proposal 03.
The large reduction of heat loss for proposal 02 (ca 60%) means a centralized heating systems becomes feasible and appropriate in size ensuring comfort across the monastery cells. However the system is still rather large resulting in a need to rely on grid electricity, more maintenance and average energy performance as well as high CO2 emissions. It is therefore not a sustainable solution for the life span of the monastery or the future of our world.

design2 energy

design2 building

Design proposal 2

Design proposal 3 Large Impact Sustainability
Design proposal 3 offers a long term solution for ensured comfort level throughout the year. By investing a large amount of money on extensive renovation to insulate the monastery externally and replacing all poorly functioning window frames the building's thermal performance can be optimised reducing the heat load with up to 85% compared to the existing building.
The preferred materials used are natural with circular properties. The construction process is complex due to the implementations being mainly on the external faces of the building and have some visual impacts on the overall appearance. However, the result is a better performing building making use of the thermal mass of the structure, a new 'room' in winter time being enclosed verandahs and no impact on the already small internal spaces compared to proposal 2. External insulation also reduce the cooling loads in summer resulting in no cooling system being required.
Due to the small amount of energy needed to reach a desired indoor temperature the energy system for this proposal can also be almost independent of the grid by incorporating a seasonal storage of hot water from solar collector. This means that the monastery becomes future-proof in terms of future fluctuations of energy prices and power cuts whilst reducing its impact on the environment.
The one thing this proposal does not deal with to ensure the future of the monastery is the structural integrity required to ensure the future of the monastery in case of an earthquake, something that would require rebuilding the monastery.

design3 energy

design3 building

Design proposal 3

Design proposal 4 New Building
Design proposal 4 is to build a whole new building. The location of the building on top of the hill makes it vulnerable for landslides and the region is also at high risk for earthquakes. We haven't been able to fully measure the impacts of these elements which is why we suggest further research done by specialists such as ARUP.
New building systems have been researched and designed by our crew which are earthquake resistant and could be used when designing a new building. They will ensure more safety and a better living quality for the inhabitants.

design4 energy

design4 building

New building

Fieldtrip and exposition
During our stay at the monastery we did fieldwork such as research, measurements and tests. We wanted to leave something behind so that the monks could actually see that we are working on the project and want to help them, to make it more real for them.
One team worked on insulating a whole room on the inside, another team worked on fixing the windows and adding curtains and a team worked on creating a green roof to provide more insulation. Our team did the measurements on these projects to see what the implementations did for the building and compare it with the old situation.
Besides these projects we did some smaller things as well that the monks can use immediately without too much hassle or costs. We placed four garbage bins each with a different image on it to help the monks sorting their garbage. When we placed the bins across the school, the school monks immediately were interested and started helping the sorting. They saw it as some kind of game to play.
To provide heat at short term and low cost we made little fleece hats (out of fabric that was left over from the curtains) and gave them to the school monks. Even though it was summer and they didn't need the hats yet, they were all very happy with it and directly put them on their heads.
We tested another option to provide heat in a low-cost way, which was with a heating pot. It could stay on for a few hours, but should only be used as a spare heating source, for it turned out to be not that warm on its own.

garbage bins

Home made garbage bins

monks hats

Home made monks hats


Home made heater

expo 1


expo 2

Group photo



expo 1

Bedroom school monks

expo 2

Following the waterpipes


Special puja

expo 1

School monks morning ritual

expo 2

Local tool shopping


Making the monks hats

Programs used for this project are: Sketch-up, Photoshop, AutoCad, Illustrator and InDesign.