A Major Project: Renovations and Repairs at Shangri La

At the end of August 2017, we began long planned projects to renovate and repair iconic architectural features of the museum. The design of Shangri La revolves around a contemplative central courtyard, a characteristic common among buildings in the Islamic world – from mosques to palaces, from tombs to private homes. While the location of the courtyard was fixed, Doris Duke changed its layout over the years–adding or removing concrete, plants, and trees–to shape the atmosphere and highlight the impressive surrounding tilework, columns and façades.

After an attempt to preserve a cherished Indian laburnum tree in the courtyard did not work out, the tree was removed and the space is being renovated to resemble the original courtyard design laid in the 1940s. This change opens an exciting new program and exhibition space at Shangri La. Stay tuned as the space becomes alive.

Shangri La Courtyard, circa 1940-1945. Image courtesy of DDCF Historical Archives, Rubenstein Library, Duke University.
Shangri La Courtyard, circa 1940-1946. Image courtesy of DDCF Historical Archives, Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

The larger and longer renovation project is the pool. Constructed in 1938, the pool complements the historic Playhouse in an arrangement that was inspired by the Chehel Sutun palace in Isfahan, Iran.

The pool itself was built using an innovative system that drew seawater from an ocean intake at the shoreline. Over the decades, the pool systems began to fail, marble decks and stairs became cracked and stained, and a range of characteristics that had defined the Diamond Head area of Shangri La were beginning to fade or fail. In short, an important part of our story was becoming lost. So, we made a decision to replace the pool system with a traditional internally-circulating fresh water system, replace the marble using material from the original quarry in Vermont, and make improvements to the surrounding landscape. When we finish in mid-to-late 2018, the cultural value and artistic inspiration of the cascades, pool, Playhouse and surrounding landscape will be open and available for another generation.

One of Doris Duke's dogs enjoys a swim in the pool.
One of Doris Duke’s dogs enjoying a swim in the pool. Shangri La Historical Archives.

To accomplish this work, however, will require the use of heavy machinery. A large ramp is being constructed over the Mughal Garden which will allow equipment to be moved to the pool area without damaging the site.

And at certain moments, it will be loud.


A construction barrier has been erected for safety and to help reduce noise. However, that means the pool, Playhouse, and part of the Mughal Garden will be hidden from view for several months. While the pool project will alter the outdoor landscape, the rest of the museum will be open and the barrier is a wonderful opportunity to introduce new art at Shangri La.

We are working with select artists who will be designing and painting murals on the construction barriers that open an artistic conversation about Shangri La’s landscapes, architecture and collection. The first artist is Kris Goto. Kris completed two large scale murals at Shangri La—one in the Mughal Garden and the other on the Upper Lawn area–both will be on view during our normal tour routes for the rest of 2017!

Kris Goto painting mural
Artist Kris Goto working on one of her murals for Shangri La.

Our thanks to our guides and visitors for their patience during this period of construction at Shangri La, and don’t let the construction distract you from the rest of Shangri La!