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October 23, 2018
American Archives Month: The Pool at Shangri La
In honor of American Archives Month, this blog series will peer into Shangri La’s historical records to reflect on past and present object transformations and discoveries from its collection.
Throughout Shangri La’s transition from personal residence to art museum, various objects and features have had their forms and functions reassessed. The mesmerizing swimming pool and water cascades at Shangri La are a great example of how previously functional structures can change purposes over time, acquiring new contexts as historic architecture.
Built in 1938 as Doris Duke’s swimming pool, this water feature was part of a larger development on Shangri La’s West end, which included the construction of the poolside pavilion known as the Playhouse. Beginning in August 2017, the pool underwent a significant renovation to replace its aging water system and restore its cracked marble decks with marble from the same Vermont quarry used in 1938.
Our archives at Shangri La reveal that Doris Duke and her team of architects drew inspiration for this project from both Persian and Iberian influences. Records tell us that the composition of the pool and Playhouse were most directly inspired by the arrangement and decoration of features at the Safavid palace of Chehel Sutun (c. 1647-50 CE), in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722 CE.
The principal architect in charge of the construction of the pool and Playhouse, Marion Sims Wyeth, was known in his day as a master of the Mediterranean Revival Style. Early sketches from our archives show how the pool area retained similarities with Islamic architecture found in Spain – such as the Court of the Myrtles at the Palace of the Myrtles in Alhambra, Spain, which features a low-tiled building overlooking a long reflecting pool fed by fountains at both ends.
The value and importance of archives shine through in this case. From digging just a little bit into our historical records and comparing these past snapshots to contemporary events, we’re able to piece together an evolutionary story of change and transformation at Shangri La.
Stay tuned for more features like this as we celebrate American Archives Month!
About the writer:
Brieanah Gouveia is Shangri La’s collections management intern for the fall. She is from the Big Island, and this year received her MSc in Art History from the University of Glasgow. She specializes in provenance research and is an avid reader of all things concerning the illicit antiquities trade.