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Central Courtyard

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a central courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world.

Syrian Room

The Syrian Room is one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums.

Damascus Room

The Damascus Room is a highlight of the Islamic art collection assembled by Doris Duke (1912–93) and is one of two Syrian interiors preserved at Shangri La.

Entry Courtyard

Visitors to Shangri La descend a long driveway shielded by dense foliage and first encounter the main house from within an open-air space known variously as the entry or banyan courtyard.

Foyer

The foyer is the first room that visitors enter in the main house, and it provides an introduction to Doris Duke (1912–93) as a collector and patron, to the visual language of Islamic art, and to the experience of Islamic art that Shangri La offers.

Central Courtyard

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a central courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world.

Living Room

The living room preserves a number of important works of art from North Africa and Spain.

Mihrab Room

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353).

Dining Room

The dining room is Doris Duke’s (1912–93) interpretation of an Islamic-style tent.

Playhouse

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. 

Mughal Garden

The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. 

Private Hall

The private hall is located off the central courtyard and terminates in the Mughal Suite.

Mughal Suite

The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard.

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Central courtyard. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The central courtyard's mosaic tile panel (48.93), commissioned from a workshop in Isfahan, Iran, in 1938. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

The courtyard's central fountain is surrounded by Safavid panels and colored-glass windows. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

The central courtyard, looking towards the Mughal Suite. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The central courtyard, looking towards the staff wing. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The central courtyard, looking towards the living room. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world, including mosques, madrasas (religious schools), palaces, tombs and private homes. In such buildings, courtyards serve a variety of functions, including separating public and private spaces (as well as male and female ones); ensuring privacy within urban contexts favoring inward-facing façades; providing a gathering space for the faithful; and securing access to air flow and water in warm environments.

The central courtyard provides a natural haven at the heart of Shangri La while also separating its public and private spaces. The foyer, living room, and Syrian Room directly adjoin it, while the more private Mughal Suite and the service wing are located off separate hallways. At the center of the courtyard is a yellow shower tree and irises clustered around a star-shaped fountain. The perimeter arcade, which provides much-needed shade, features a wood awning supported by columns inset with reflective mica. The surrounding four walls are covered in late thirteenth through early twentieth-century Persian tilework in a variety of techniques: molded (unglazed and glazed), mosaic, and underglaze. On the upper walls are colored-glass windows—replicas of an original window on view in the foyer. At night, the courtyard is illuminated by hanging copper alloy lamps.

The primary aesthetic in the courtyard is Persian, and the majority of its architecture and tilework can be traced to Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell’s visit to Iran in 1938. While in Isfahan, the couple documented a number of seventeenth-century palaces with large wooden pillared porches (talars) on their façades. One such palace was the Ali Qapu (High Gate, 1590–1643), which faced the city’s renowned square (maidan). The Cromwells carefully photographed this porch, and its undulating entablature supported by faceted column capitals provided the model for the courtyard’s wood awning, which is supported by twelve columns (64.43).

During their time in Isfahan, the couple also purchased or ordered the vast majority of the courtyard’s tilework from—or through—the dealer Ayoub Rabenou. The late thirteenth-century Ilkhanid panel on the northern “stepped” façade (48.100a–c), for example, was acquired from Rabenou. The dealer also arranged for the purchase of a large number of seventeenth–nineteenth-century underglaze panels originally installed on the wall of a private home in New Julfa, the city’s Armenian suburb (48.84.1). Finally, Rabenou supervised an Isfahani workshop’s creation of custom-made mosaic and underglaze tilework for the central courtyard’s remaining surfaces. This work included four mosaic grills for the upper corners (48.12.1–4); underglaze spandrels and borders for the arched entrances (48.87.1); and mosaic panels for the northern and southern façades (48.93). The latter were the most complex commissions, and both were inspired by tilework on the façade of the Masjid-i Shah (Shah Mosque, 1612–c. 1630), a congregational mosque located to the right of the Ali Qapu.

Historical Images

The central courtyard fountain, November 21, 1937. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. The central courtyard, 1938. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. In the original design for the central courtyard, fern bark was laid against the east, west and south walls, with tropical vegetation set within it, 1938. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. A suzani (embroidery) temporarily hanging on the south wall of the central courtyard while the large mosaic tile panel—specifically ordered for this space—was being made in Isfahan, Iran, 1938. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The central courtyard, with the late thirteenth-century Ilkhanid tiles partially installed and framed by a pair of mirrored wood columns, early 1940s. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The central courtyard, showing colored-glass windows along the east wall’s lower register, c. 1946. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
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Available on this website:

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Commissions and Recreations, 1935–1938: Iran, 1938,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Other resources:

Keelan Overton, “From Pahlavi Isfahan to Pacific Shangri La: Reviving, Restoring and Reinventing Safavid Aesthetics, ca. 1920–40,” West 86th:A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 19, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 2012), 61–87.

1938 Journey to the Middle East,” Duke University.

Isfahan,” ArchNet.

Shah ‘Abbas: the Remaking of Iran,” British Museum.

Three Empires of Islam, Safavid Ceramics and Tiles,” Louvre.

Damascus Room
Private Hall
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