Header Image
< Back to Historic Preservation


Original decorative painted panels were removed and replaced in 2005. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The Playhouse is located on the western end of the property, close to the ocean. Since its construction in 1938, the Playhouse has been exposed to wind, salt, sun and moisture, resulting in structural and cosmetic damage that threatens the integrity of the building and detracts from its beauty. Deferred maintenance has increased the severity of some of the damage. Thus, the Playhouse has been given top priority in the DDFIA's multi-year master preservation plan. With the completion of the first two phases of preservation work in 2001–2002, which focused on areas of the main building now open to the public, attention turned in 2003–2005 to rehabilitating the Playhouse and opening it for program use.

In 2003, preservation activity focused on the roof of the Playhouse. In particular, a waterproof membrane was laid to prevent moisture from seeping into the building. Since 2003, the tile mosaics on the façade of the Playhouse have undergone various levels of conservation treatment. The mosaics located on the ocean side of the Playhouse were particularly damaged by salt exposure. Some of these mosaics were removed, desalinated and placed in storage, while others were consolidated in situ. Both approaches seek to prevent further deterioration of these important pieces, which Doris Duke (1912–93) commissioned from artisans in Iran in 1938.

The Playhouse roofline before and after restoration in the 1970s. At left, severe degradation plagues the original painted surfaces; at right, the new masonite surfaces. Shangri La Historical Archives. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

In 2004, attention turned to the interior of the Playhouse. One of the most demanding projects was the replacement of heavily corroded bronze hardware on all the doors and windows. Areas of the wood floor were replaced where dry rot was disintegrating the substructure. Walls compromised by water damage were repaired and reinforced. A massive pair of glass doors that had heavy salt accretion was replaced, allowing the beautiful ocean views to be seen once again. 

Spalling had occurred in a number of locations on the Playhouse's exterior where moisture had penetrated to the metal rebar inside the cement walls. As the corroded rebar expanded, it burst the cement. To fix the problem, the cement walls were drilled to expose the rebar, and a protective coating was applied to prevent further moisture from reaching the metal.

In 2005, efforts focused on the Playhouse porch. The building's close proximity to the ocean resulted in drastic fading, flaking and disintegration of the porch's paint surfaces. Initially, Duke hired a family of local artists to paint the wood porch with geometric designs inspired by a seventeenth-century pavilion in Iran. By the 1970s, however, the paint had severely deteriorated, so Duke hired a commercial company based in Honolulu to repaint the porch following the original design scheme. This time, paint was applied to a masonite core which was overlaid with fiberglass. These panels were then placed over the original painted wood surfaces.

A member of John Canning studio's crew applying a stencil to a column base at the Playhouse porch. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The 1970s restoration was severely degraded and, once again, the painted surfaces of the porch needed to be replaced. In 2005, a professional painting and conservation studio conserved and replicated the porch's painted surfaces, following the original design scheme.

The Playhouse has been open to the public for programs since 2006. Future work will focus on the crumbling mosaic tile façade that Duke commissioned in 1938. In addition, the decorative painted exterior has suffered considerable weathering since 2006. Shangri La staff and consultants will determine how best to address the constant onslaught of salt spray.

< Back to Historic Preservation
About Shangri La Visit Islamic Art Collection Programs Residencies Internship Opportunities Stewardship Research Blog Contact Us