Environmental considerations were a major concern. The lush natural vegetation was conserved wherever possible, and, more importantly, the buildings’ designs took into account the glaring heat and monsoon rains. Long, flat-roofed pergolas with slim columns shaded many of the pedestrian walkways. For the buildings themselves, Sharon used a climatic solution that he called a “reverse" or "inverted pyramid,”4 an element unprecedented in his work. The humanities faculty buildings (1962), as well as the library (1966) and education faculty (1970) were all planned according to this principle.
Each of the humanities buildings had four cantilevered floors, providing shade and protection to the one immediately adjacent to it. Recessed terraces created sharp contrasts of light and shade, contributing a sculptural emphasis to this gradation. Sharon emphasized the novelty of this approach towards climatic concerns, as it involved use of the buildings’ volumes for protection, rather than conceiving a building and subsequently adding “louvers and precast ornamental elements.”5 He mentions their application in Nigeria by British architects, most likely referring to the University of Ibadan (begun 1948) by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. After World War II, Fry and Drew were among the first to introduce modernist architecture to the British Gold Coast of Africa, advocating tailoring the International Style to local climatic conditions. Sharon was no stranger to louvres and precast elements, and had made ample use of them in Israel. In Nigeria, however, while not abandoning them entirely, his climate-conscious formulations of mass and shape were, perhaps, an implicit critique of earlier colonial–era campus architecture.
The buildings of the library and the education department were designed after Sharon’s son, Eldar, joined his father’s practice in 1964. Another important addition to the team, who joined around the same time, was Harold Rubin, whom Sharon appointed to head of the OAU campus project. With the arrival of the two younger architects, abstract elements and polygonal forms began to dominate, a development exemplified by the education building’s diagonal concrete trusses and the library’s facade, whose entrance is marked by a large circle cut into exposed concrete.
Precursors of the Ife campus from Sharon’s own projects should be viewed in the context of the grand project to create new scientific and public health facilities following the declaration of the State of Israel. The modernist style dominated these and was perceived as an important aesthetic tool for ensuring Israel be considered a member of the community of Western nations. Of Sharon’s projects, his hospitals and campuses of the 1950s, planned with Benjamin Idelson, his associate at the time, deserve particular attention. The Soroka Health Center in Beer-Sheva (1955) was their largest and most important commission and anticipated the OAU campus in its “loose grid” layout. Pergolas, similar in style to those designed for the OAU connected the various buildings of the medical center, shielding pedestrians from the desert sun and defining smaller courtyards. Plans for the new campuses of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Hebrew University employed a similar layout. The central core planned for the Technion IIT campus (1956) was comprised, as in Ife, of an auditorium, secretariat and library, with inviting courtyards connecting the three buildings, while the Hebrew University’s (1952) student dormitories were designed as a larger group of buildings, albeit with greater emphasis on the central courtyard. In both complexes, recessed windows, deep terraces and vertical brises-soleil were used to cope with Israel’s hot summers, later to be implemented at OAU.