Sewala Monastery: Dormitory Building


The Journey to Sewala Shedra

Upon the invitation of a Bhutanese emissary to the United Nations, Eric Hoffman, and his partner Michael Reynolds, made their first trip to the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan back in 2004. Little did they know the journey would be one of many, concretizing deep relationships that would culminate in the construction of a three-story dormitory and subsequent water system for the students and teachers of a remote mountain monastery (shedra).
The Monastery in the Clouds
A fortuitous set of circumstances led Eric and Michael on an 8-hour uphill journey through damp, cloud ecosystems and leech-infused pathways to the doorstep of what appeared to be a monastic ruin. Young, maroon-clad monks appeared out of the structure and assembled to welcome their guests. The encounter would forever leave a searing impression. Over the course of two days, they witnessed the novice monks eat under the same shed as the livestock, use archaic lavatories and unsanitary bathing facilities, and sleep in structurally-compromised rooms where rats roamed the walls. They immediately started wondering if there was anything that could be done to improve the novice monk’s conditions. It was only after returning to New York City that a plan was hatched to build a dormitory complete with bedrooms, classrooms and a kitchen–a plan that would take two years to organize and finance.
Back in the US, the challenge of overseeing a remote, overseas construction project was made immediately apparent. A great need arose to find someone on the ground in Bhutan to manage the project. Guided by fate, they met Dr. Bruce Bunting of The Bhutan Foundation, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., whose Bhutanese staff stepped in to help. By the Foundation’s coordination of efforts with the monastery’s Principal, a Bhutanese architect was commissioned to draw renderings, construction materials were identified and sourced, and a local labor force on the mountain was assembled. The dormitory was completed in less than six months and the construction activity captured the interest of the government, who later contributed to the renovation of the monastery’s remaining structures including the sacred shrine room.
Pride of Place
With their return to Bhutan in 2008 to see the completed building, an obvious detail emerged: the monastic school population had increased and the students attending were older. Now with the completion of the dormitory building and upgraded facilities (including bathrooms donated by UNICEF), Sewala Shedra could accommodate more students. The novice monks couldn’t wait to share their new quarters as illustrated in the following portraits.
Classrooms for Study and Prayer
The dormitory was designed to accommodate two open format classrooms within the building’s lower level. Timber used in the classroom’s structural columns, floor boards and ceiling rafters were all locally sourced from the mountain. The architecture and color palette both follow the traditional Buddhist vernacular and natural light floods into both spaces through doorways and large windows.

Sewala Monastery Featured in WSJ Magazine

The Wall Street Journal documented our return to Sewala to see the dormitory’s completion for the first time. To read the full article, click here.