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About Historic Preservation

At Shangri La, a 4.9-acre terraced site on O‘ahu’s southern shore, beautifully landscaped grounds are integrated with three main structures: the main building, the Playhouse, and the cottage. The main building, a concrete structure that houses the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) collections, consists of interior living spaces, an open central courtyard, and a service wing. The Playhouse currently supports programs —in particular the residencies for artists and scholars conducting research on the collection. The cottage has historically served as the caretaker’s residence. Today, it provides a structure for the maintenance and grounds staff, with offices for operations and security and an open work area for art conservation projects.

The living room architraves during treatment, 2008. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Because of their proximity to the shoreline and constant exposure to the elements, Shangri La’s buildings are particularly susceptible to deterioration and weathering. Preservation and rehabilitation of character-defining features have been ongoing priorities for the DDFIA.

Preservation refers to the application of protective measures that are designed to sustain the existing form and character of a structure. It provides avenues for improving structural stability in order to make a structure “safe, habitable, or otherwise useful.” Though it is impossible to completely arrest deterioration of historic structures, preservation attempts to slow or mitigate further deterioration.

In 2008, the DDFIA commissioned a Historic Structures Report, a comprehensive research and planning tool that includes a history and analysis of the significance of the property; an existing conditions survey; a conservation assessment; recommendations on the prioritization and phasing of repairs and conservation treatments, including cyclical repair and maintenance procedures; and projected cost estimates. The report provides the information base from which to make informed decisions and plans for the care, management and programmatic development of the property—an important step towards developing a master plan.

2005 work on the Playhouse porch. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Preservation planning includes maintaining written and photographic documentation of a property’s history and existing condition, and processes of physical work, culminating in a disciplined approach to caring for a historic building. The preservation plan further aims to

  • Support the educational mission of the DDFIA
  • Sustain the integrity of the site and its character-defining features over time
  • Guide developments in building and landscape work, and long-term capital improvements
  • Encourage sustainable practices where feasible

Between 2001 and 2002, the public rooms at Shangri La were restored to reflect their appearance during Doris Duke’s (1912–93) lifetime. Capital repairs included refurbishing corroded bronze window and doorframes, restoring original light fixtures, extensive repairing of concrete and plaster walls and roofs, removing hazardous materials, painting, rewiring, and other work. In more recent years, preservation efforts have focused on the landscape, roof repairs and restoration of the Playhouse.


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