The 'Finest Campus' in Africa

Built by Bauhaus student Arieh Sharon, inspired by the Yoruba people

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

While the Israeli architect Arieh Sharon was brooding over the new build for what is now the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria in 1960, he had big problems with the climate. How do you build a university in the Tropics in such way that the students can keep a cool head?

Dessau. Bauhaus (Bauhaus building, architect Walter Gropius, exterior view with Bauhaus sign by Herbert Beyer) (1931/1932) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

But Sharon had already early on grappled with the impact of the weather on the planning of building – namely at the Bauhaus in Dessau …

Bauhaus I.D. of Arieh Sharon (1928/1929) by Bauhaus DessauBauhaus Dessau Foundation

… where he studied architecture under Hannes Meyer in the late 1920s. Meyer insisted on carrying out various empirical preliminary studies before every construction project (a completely new thing at the time!) and integrated his buildings into the landscape.

The White City, view from above, 1996 (1996)World Monuments Fund

In 1931 Sharon went to Israel, where his buildings had a crucial impact on the way Tel Aviv looks. In 1949, now Chief Architect in the Government Planning Department, he even drew up a Master Plan for the whole of Israel …

… but his “deciding challenge” as an architect, as he himself once wrote, was that campus in Africa, that was to occupy him for nearly two decades.

So what did he do about the heat?

Sharon aligned the building in such a way that its rooms were not heated by the low-slanting sun in the morning and the afternoon and so that the south wind could provide good ventilation. To give shade to the lower floors, some buildings were built wider at the top – like inverted pyramids.

In front of many of the buildings he spread roofs like awnings …

… and many of the footpaths were covered by roofs to protect against rain and sun.

Top Afri(W) Nigeria Types (Southern) Yoruba, Ibo, Ibibio, EfikLIFE Photo Collection


The campus was funded by the Israeli development aid programme and was the first new build university in independent Nigeria. It was built in Ile Ife in the south-west of Nigeria, the holy city of the Yoruba, where the highest-ranking king of this West African people had his palace, and, according to their mythology, where the world had been created. So the Yoruba culture was a major source of inspiration for Sharon.

Round arches and geometric forms refer to Yoruba architecture.

In front of the library stands an insignia staff surrounded by a semi-circular obelisk.

And the lecture hall was named after the first king of the Yoruba – Odúduwà Hall. The facade is decorated with abstract geometric forms from the Yoruba culture.

The campus was Sharon’s life work. But not only that –

it is considered to be the finest campus in all of Africa. It’s even called that in the university’s anthem.

And that was most certainly composed with a cool head.

Read more about Bauhaus everywhere
Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Credits: All media
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