Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamshala is a quaint town situated in Himachal Pradesh. Clusters of farm buildings primarily constructed with stone, slate and wood are scattered across this rural landscape. In between the fields, dense Himalayan cedar trees with a history of over one hundred years create compartments in the landscape
The site is nestled between vast pristine expanses of terraced mustard fields. Somewhere between nature and the man-made, this geometry feels strangely attractive. The long sinuous curves of the terraces follow the gradient profile of the land that began formation around 50 million years ago. However its strong definition is unmistakably human. According to William Fraser Tytler who explored the Himalayas almost two centuries ago, the “ridgy appearance” of the landscape both “chiefly attracts the travelers eye” and “produced a strange regularity”.
There is an abundance of other characteristic features on the site. A random string of glacial erratics draws a line across the fields making the geographical history of the place visible. The site slopes up towards the snow-capped mountain ranges to the North. Furthermore a tranquil stream flows just a short distance away from site.
The yoga retreat is conceptualised as an extrusion of this terraced landscape. One could imagine that an incidental geological formation pushed up a section of the terraces in the shape of a malformed asymmetrical three winged boomerang. While doing so, it exposed on its sides sinuously curved rock walls. The ribbon like form of the building retains the trees and big boulders on site. Underneath, above and between the ground plane and the roof, the yoga retreat is a device to experience the landscape in diverse ways.
Currently between cultivations and open fields, there is a strong possibility that the surrounding lands will have built structures in the near future. In a scenario where views from spaces within the yoga retreat can be obstructed in the future, the roof acts as an elevated plane. Therefore it becomes a critical element for the panoramic experience of the mountainscape.
A series of winding paths across the site, eventually converges in a central garden. While the three ‘wings’ of the boomerang move away from the central garden, the volumes gradually grow to house additional program. The silhouette of the building thus becomes synonymous with the valleys in the mountain range.
The landscape and rocky outcrop of the site continue into the shaded garden. A series of stepping stones create slender pathways that cross a perennial stream and meander between the life size boulders. This stream is a diversion from a perennial mountain stream that flows parallel to the road leading into the site. It branches out further to create natural ponds on different levels. The network of water bodies make for a serene trickling sound as the water flows down the terraces.
The building volume is punctured with wedge like cut-outs to create light wells and large openings to frame views. Courtyards, verandahs and light wells surround existing trees. Along the curved interiors of the structure, the views from the openings in the semi-open garden are moments of pause and quiet. Furthermore the play of light and shadow on the curved walls enhances this experience.
A flight of stairs from the central garden leads up to the yoga area. Here a large full height window opens up the space to the view of the mountains. A curved plank finish exposed concrete wall makes for a calm backdrop lit by a long slender skylight. Fins along the skylight cast different shadows along the wall throughout the day. This backdrop, with its beautiful natural light, makes for a tranquil and meditative atmosphere for the yoga room. One side of the yoga room terminates in a small courtyard to walk out to. The other side of the rooms leads via a series of steps to the roof garden.
The roof is an extension to the interior yoga area, providing a large outdoor space for yoga practice. The roof is also accessible through a ramp from the common living room wing of the retreat, easily making it a secondary ground plane. The fireplace in the living roof creates a barbecue at the terrace, activating the roof garden further.
On the ground floor, the long narrow interior space is defined by the shape of the boomerang. It narrows and widens to accommodate various program. However across the length, the kitchen, dining area, living room and verandahs open seamlessly into each other. Nevertheless the varying widths and heights of the spaces and the curvatures in plan define each area into distinct spaces.
A verandah as extension to the dining area provides a transition from the interior space to the outdoor pool deck. A bedroom suite sits atop these areas enjoying unobstructed views of the mountains.
The yoga retreat also accomodates a massage room, sauna and an indoor thermal bath. Additionally it houses three guest rooms that are located in the two shorter wings. While form finished exposed concrete ceilings lend a solid character to the spaces, a warm timber flooring, and timber slatted walls make for an interesting interior material palette. The exterior walls are made of meticulously crafted solid local stone masonry.
Dharamshala Yoga retreat
Sustainability, Context, Typology
Yoga, Wellness and meditation retreat
A series of terraces in a remote area of Dharamshala, faces the beautiful Dhauladhar mountain range.
Nearing harvest season
In the beginning of the monsoon the landscape transforms. While the vegetation turns lush green, the terrain gets naturally flooded
Lower level plan
Level 1 plan
Level 2 plan
Roof level plan
View from the entrance to the swimming pool
View towards the guest bedroom
The marshy landscape continues uninterruptedly through the centre of the building
The dining room and the open courtyard double frame the mountain range beyond
A full height window opens the east side of the yoga room to the mountain range
Light and shadow move across a curved concrete wall during the day.
A sliding door between the bedroom suite and its attached balcony slides away completely behind the staircase wall.
A freestanding bathtub sits at the end of the master bathroom in front of a full size window. The space acts like a telescope pointed at the mountains beyond.