Bauhaus Modernism and the Nigerian Connection

The Socio-Political Context of Arieh Sharon and the University Of Ife Design

Obafemi Awolowo University: Oduduwa Hall and Hezekiah Oluwasanmi library.
Photo: Babatunde E. Jaiyeoba.

University education was a critical issue in African colonial territories after the Second World War, especially in British West Africa, where a pressing need existed to fill essential middle and top-level managerial and technical positions—especially as independence struggles rapidly gained momentum, with independence being the most likely outcome envisaged by both British colonialists and pro-independence activists alike. Before independence, the Nigerian regional political parties had enacted education programs, aimed in particular at the primary school level, with a gap evident at both secondary and post-secondary level. Parallel to this, British architects and engineers played a prominent role in designing, planning and executing building and infrastructure in West African countries, including during Nigeria’s colonial era. Thus it should be considered “against the run of play” for a Bauhaus-trained Israeli architect such as Arieh Sharon to have been named designer of the post-independence University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife—renamed after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, upon his death in 1987).

Arieh Sharon was in the first group of students to study under Hannes Meyer, who was director of the Bauhaus architecture department (created in 1927) at the time of Sharon’s arrival. Sharon’s experience as an architect and planner post-graduation in Tel Aviv, and his later involvement with the Israeli government’s domestic and international policies—especially in relation to the political situation in Nigeria—may have accounted for his appointment as designer of the University of Ife and thus, the propagation of Bauhaus modernism in Nigeria. Even today, Nigeria’s ethno-religious political context is always at play within domestic politics, affecting decision-making at every level of the education sector. This was certainly the case for decisions taken during colonialism by the country’s colonial masters, mediators and local politicians alike. Through a qualitative review of the extant literature, this paper examines how developments in the socio-political context of Nigeria and international politics—including history and policies in the education sector—“constructed” Sharon’s involvement in the University of Ife design and the spread of Bauhaus modernism to tropical architecture.

The Nigerian Context in the Pre-Sharon Ile-Ife Master Plan Era

The 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria’s northern and southern protectorates by Sir Frederick Lugard created Nigeria as a unified state. Although many constitutions were tried after this, Nigeria’s constitution pre-independence was always unitary, with a strong administrative center and three regions—north, west and east. The post-Second World War constitution—known as the Sir Arthur Richards constitution of 1946—contained provisions for regional councils and legislatures, albeit without independent legislative power, since the federal legislature in Lagos sent proposed laws to each region for debate and consultation. However, the Governor could also reject decisions by the federal legislature or implement programs with the approval of the secretary of state for colonies in cases where the consent of regional legislatures was not forthcoming.1 Sir John Macpherson’s constitution of 1951 continued the decentralizing tendencies of the 1946 constitution, but sought to strengthen the unity of the country by granting increased autonomy to the three regions. However, J.A.A. Ayoade states that this was not a federal arrangement, although the relationship between the federal and regional governments was defined by the constitution. Each region was given an executive council and each regional legislature granted legislative powers.2 Thus, the Macpherson Constitution allowed for increased regional autonomy, with each region empowered to enact legislation on, among other matters, education, local government, agriculture and health. J.P. Mackintosh observed that, depending on the operators, this constitution was sufficiently flexible as to enable the country to operate as a single unit or federation.3 The example of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the Western Region, and Sardauna of Sokoto, head of the Northern Region—who each preferred to remain in their region rather than be based in Lagos—has been cited as evidence of the weakness of the central government. The problems resulting from this arrangement led to the 1954 Lyttlelton Constitution, which sought to unify (by 1958) the federation by instituting an exclusive legislative list for the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, with a concurrent list for the federal and regional governments and other powers left in control of the regional governments. To Ayoade, the Lyttleton Constitution was actually the first federal constitution, since it guaranteed semi-autonomous regional development policy by making the exclusive and concurrent legislative lists, and residuary subjects and powers (matters of state not included in topics arrogated to the federal authority) exclusive to the regions.4 However, in the event of conflict regarding a concurrent subject, the federal law reigned supreme. This, in fact, led to the beginning of regional competition between the various ruling parties (Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the Northern Region, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the Eastern Region, and Action Group (AG) in the Western Region) to deliver the dividends of democracy to their people. The Lyttleton Constitution also reconstructed Nigeria into north, west and eastern regions—a three-way federation.5 With this development, Nigerian politics went regional and ethno-regionalism began in earnest.6 Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa observed that the constitution made it possible for two regions to collude against the third, citing the example of an occasion when the NPC and the NCNC exploited an internal split in the AG to reduce the power of the Western Region to create a Mid-Western Region, resulting in increased social and political tension.7 The central government retained exclusive control of defense, external affairs, external finances (international debt), communications and travel on land, sea and air. The concurrent list was responsible for higher education, industrial development, services such as water and power, the regulation of labor conditions and all professions, including the legal profession and healthcare. The regions handled all the other levels of education: agriculture, health, industrial development and public works.

After the 1959 election, the Northern People’s Congress and NCNC formed a coalition government at the federal level, while the AG became part of the opposition government in Lagos, which was now part of Western Nigeria. Many conflicts arose both inside and outside the AG as a result of tension between the federal coalition and the opposition. Competition between the regions also extended to foreign relations, especially with respect to the Israeli/Arab relations in the Middle East and the perceived interest of the colonial masters—as intuited by politicians from the three regions relative to their internal policy-making and interests.

Socio-Political Context of Nigeria and Afro-Israeli Relations in the Ife University Conception Era

The ethnic character of the three political parties of the time, especially considering their respective bases of support in the three regions, meant that between 1960 and 1966 the federated units of the three regional governments were quite powerful. The 1960 constitution allowed each government to maintain representatives in the United Kingdom and to negotiate loans with foreign governments independent of the federal government. Higher education, industrial development and other issues on the concurrent list also gave regional governments opportunities to pursue foreign relations.8 Regional versus federal conflicts arose mainly because of political differences and the variety of ethnicities and religions that co-exist within Nigeria.

The conflict between Israel and the Arab world in the Middle East generated a diverse range of responses within both the regional governments and the federal government. According to R.A. Akindele and Oye Oyediran, the different regions possessed divergent interest in foreign policy and international relations, as was the case with relations between Nigeria and Israel.9 The Western and Eastern regional governments had extensive relations with Israel and Israeli firms, much to the distress of the predominantly Muslim north. In his aforementioned account, Mackintosh cites these tensions, which resulted in the prime minister and federal foreign minister ordering the regional governments and ministers to obtain permission before making statements on critical international issues or negotiating other international commitments, such as loans. Alternately, the Northern regional government was known to have reproached the federal government for accepting a loan from Israel in 1961 (the response of Nigeria’s first prime minister following independence, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was that the Northern Region was not obliged to benefit from the loan). Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola of the Western Region and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Michael Opara of the Eastern Region had good cultural, economic and infrastructure development contacts with Israel, while the government of the Northern Region—preferring to maintain good working relations with fellow Islamic nations and individuals—declined all contact with Israel, which complicated the matter of arriving at a national policy on the Middle Eastern conflict at the federal level. Balewa established some diplomatic relations, but pressure from northern elites forbade the establishment of a Nigerian embassy in Tel Aviv.

During the first half of the 1950s, Israel’s foreign policy positions with regards to the then Third World was distinct from its policy after the Second Arab-Israeli War of 1956.10 After 1956, Israel focused on increasing its regional influence and countering the cultural affinity between black Africa and the Arab world. Ade Adefuye suggests that the historical and cultural connection between the Arab world and northern Nigeria—through trans-Saharan trade routes and the coeval spread of Islam and Islamic culture—made adopting the Arab cause preferable to Israel’s friendship.11 Additionally, during the 1960s Arab states circulated the allegation that Israel was cooperating with two main enemies of the newly independent African nations—the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, and the apartheid regime in South Africa—though many African leaders felt the argument lacked depth, due in part to the fact that the relationship between South Africa and Israel predated 1960 (in fact, South Africa was among the first countries to officially recognize Israel following its declaration of statehood and the South African prime minister was the first to officially visit).12 Following Israel’s establishment of trade relations with Burma and other Southeast Asian states, Central African nations such as Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Abyssinia were the first to initiate diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. To these newly independent nations “… Israel was seen to present a significant example of economic and social reconstruction”.13

However, the physical size of Nigeria, its heterogeneous population and immense natural resources—as well as the expectation that it would play a leadership role in Africa (with the possible spread of influence to the Middle East)—was of equal interest to Israel. According to Adefuye (1979), to reduce the anticipated Arab influence in Northern Nigeria, Israel directed its friendship overtures towards the western and eastern parts of the country, where Yoruba and Igbos are the main ethnic groups, each of whom possess substantial Christian populations. The Nigerian federal constitution of 1954, which granted semi-autonomy to the regions and concurrent powers on higher education, industrial development and tourism (to ensure competition was exploited by regional governments) also encouraged the states to explore foreign relations, over which the central federal government had exclusive powers. The different regional governments therefore sent missions abroad to study how to develop the various sectors of each region’s economy. In 1958, two such missions to Israel originated in the then Western Nigeria regional government—led, respectively, by Minister of Agriculture Chief Gabriel Akin-Deko and the Permanent Secretary Dr Theophilus Aribisala—each of whom negotiated in the area of construction and developing water resources. Another mission to Israel visited Solel Boneh enterprises, one of the largest Israeli construction and engineering firms of the time, as well as Water Resources Development (WRD), a subsidiary of the Israel’s National Water Company- Mekorot. This mission was undertaken to explore how these companies might contribute to the technical assistance package from Israel to the region of Western Nigeria. These collaborations, begun prior to Nigerian independence, continued post-independence. The Nigerian government then felt compelled to adopt policies that were necessarily dependent on Western countries, due to the country’s colonial history. Adefuye questioned whether it was possible for the then pro-Western Nigerian government not to be on good terms with Israel, which derived its existence and power from Western powers and, in addition, willingly provided economic and technical aid.14 Separate from participating in the 1962 Nigerian trade fair, Nigeria received 5.2 million British pounds in loans from Israel between 1960 and 1963.15 Israel’s support to Nigeria was noted abroad. Despite Nigeria’s central federal government’s self-professed non-alignment policy, Golda Meir, then Israel’s foreign minister, became the object of a protest fomented by the wives of eight Arab diplomats prior to delivering a lecture organized by the Nigerian Women Society during a courtesy visit to President Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1964.16

There are other aspects to explain Israel’s relations with Africa. The struggle for self-determination that took time, effort and occasional bitterness was shared by both Israel and many Asian and African countries, including Nigeria. However, economically Israel was on the level of European states considering per capita income, per acre productivity, industrial development, human development and public health.17 The foreign relations breakthrough for Israel in Asia was Burma while in Africa it was Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah was persuaded by the Burmese experience to consider Israel the best and least dangerous option for technical assistance. Israeli assistance quickly spread to Ghana’s West African neighbor Nigeria and to Ethiopia in the east, who had access to an estimated 150 Israeli experts by 1960. In 1960 there were 100 Israeli experts in Ghana and Nigeria, 50 in Liberia and 20 in Serria Leone.18

Israeli aid was received warmly because “… Israel is Jewish, Young, Small, Developing, Pioneering, and Skilled” and beneficiary states had the opportunity to witness “economic development in action.”19 Another reason was the speed with which Israeli aid was provided—without strings attached and with a willingness to develop joint ventures together with beneficiary countries. For its part, Israel was motivated by an interest in cultivating allies among the African and Asian countries, especially considering the role played by the United Nations in Israel’s passionate conflict with the Arab world. Thus, technical aid schemes complemented counter-propaganda as weapons in Israel’s psychological and diplomatic/economic arsenal. Israel was also motivated by the possibility of reaching the Arab mind through friendship with adjacent Afro-Asian countries in order to prevent Arabs from persuading other Afro-Asians to adopt their own negative position on Israel. Another idea, according to then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, was to enhance the status of Israel in the West, establishing its reputation as a country capable of taking care of smaller country’s needs: caring for other people’s welfare was also an avenue to expend extra energies concentrated previously on the fight for Israeli statehood. Furthermore, according to Michael Brecher Israel was also a bridge to channel grants between former colonial masters and formerly colonized states.20

Bubawa Misawa has opined that African countries recognized Israel and supported Israel’s weak position in the Middle East because they viewed Israel as a country needing independence, as well as on account of the developmental model and innovations it offered—such as Israeli cooperative structures like the kibbutz and the moshav—and, finally, because Israel offered technical, economic and humanitarian aid to black African countries.21 Israel was aware of the Arab world’s attempt to isolate it and so took the initiative in contacting leaders in African countries soon to be independent. For a country which had little or no relation to Africa pre-1956, the first relations with Ghana in 1957—after Kwameh Nkrumah’s change of mind towards Israel—led to multilateral relations with many other countries immediately following their independence. Rather than competing with the East or West to deliver financial aid,22 Israel was able to impress upon nascent Sub-Saharan African states the benefit of technical developmental assistance and aid. Afro-Israeli relations included cooperation in agriculture, help in establishing cooperative enterprises, assistance with education and technological development; between 1958 and 1972, up to 3,632 Israeli experts were in Africa and over 10,000 African students visited Israel on exchange programs.23

Y. Leo Kohn identified three different forms of collaboration between Israel and African and Asian nations that existed at the time. First, as mentioned above, Israel provided technicians and specialists from different fields: as in Burma, agricultural technicians, veterinarians, engineers, town planners, aircraft maintenance personnel were all made available. In addition to these sectors, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, French Sudan and other Asian countries received assistance from Israeli financial advisers, who helped to establish cooperative banks. Israel also provided experts in farm mechanization. The salaries of these specialists were paid by the beneficiary nations, except when said experts were visiting under the auspices of United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. African and Asian nations appreciated the similarities in their challenges with those of Israel and could expect realistic solutions from Israeli technical experts. The second form was training. By way of example: Histadrut, the Israeli General Federation of Labor, organized a three-month seminar on cooperativism in the winter of 1958-59 for Asian and African countries, including Nigeria. Professors from Jerusalem University, Israeli civil servants, trade unionists and a few cabinet ministers all gave presentations, with subsequent discussions and visits to agricultural settlements, cooperative enterprises, consumer cooperatives, banks, as well as transport and health facilities. The third form of assistance was the establishment, in a few cases, of joint enterprise. The most prominent of these was the Black Star Line, a joint Ghana-Israel shipping line (named after a short-lived venture set up by Marcus Garvey in the early 1920s) and Ghana National Construction Company, set up with the active participation of Solel Boneh and the Histadrut development company.24

Israel was seen as a case study in adapting western technologies to the needs of small countries lacking significant natural resources or financial institutions. The underlying motive of the aid, as Kohn suggests, was not perceived as a continuation of colonialism but an act of solidarity by a country peopled mainly by émigrés, who themselves were struggling to develop their country in a free and democratic manner.25 In the process, other forms of assistance also developed, with many African countries establishing cooperation along defense lines, having realized how well Israel was surviving the Middle East conflict.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Western Nigerian regional government benefitted immensely from Israeli technical aids, assistance and loans. The administration and management of agricultural production in the Western region, especially in cocoa, resulted in a record of firsts in Africa: the first television station in Africa in 1959; the first radio station; the first 26-story high rise building in tropical Africa (named Cocoa House and completed in 1965); and the largest stadium in tropical Africa, commissioned in 1960 and originally named Liberty Stadium before being renamed Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in 2010. These premier developments were all located in Ibadan, administrative seat of the Western Regional government. In addition, agricultural cooperatives were also set up in the Western Region. Farm settlements increased productivity in the agriculture sector, greatly benefiting overall economic development. A cooperative bank was established, with cooperative societies serving as the backbone of the funding, business and administration, together with businesses and properties owned by cooperative societies. The success of these agriculture, agro-allied industrial and other industrial initiatives contributed to the sustenance of the four cardinal programs of the Action Group, the political party with majority power in the colonial-era Western region: free health, free education, rural development and industrial development. These four programs were sustained mostly by successful collaborations with Israel in the agricultural sector. The Western Region of Nigeria and environs remains, arguably, one of the most highly-educated and developed urban and rural population in Africa, to say nothing of the Global South.

The Context of Nigerian Education System Pre-Sharon Ile-Ife Master Plan Design

The Sir James Currie subcommittee report of 1933 reviewed higher education in British Tropical Africa, resolving to immediately initiate a university development program in response to the demand for higher education by Africans and in order to douse political tensions resulting from its lack: the anticipated number of graduates was not expected to exceed the domestic needs of the African territories. Two reports were later published on the same topic—the De La Warr report of 1937 and the Channon report of 1943. It was only after the war, in the spirit of the Atlantic Charter and in response to rising nationalism in Africa—abetted by the election success of the UK Labour Party in 1945—that a concrete strategy to implement higher education in Africa was put together by the Asquith Commission of 1945.26 The Elliot Commission, put in place two months before the final report of the Asquith Commission, specifically addressed higher education in West Africa. One recommendation in the Elliot Commission’s subsequent report resulted in the 1948 transfer, as recommended by the Asquith commission, of Yaba College of Technology in Lagos to create University College of Ibadan as a campus of University College London.27

Most educational ventures before 1950 were geared towards the economic and training demands of the colonial government and affiliated institutions, including the Nigerian railways training schools, the post and telegraph, the public works department, and port and marine department courses—all instituted between 1901 and 1931. Workers trained in these specialist disciplines were limited in number and contributed to a narrow sector of the economy. Contrary to this earlier pattern, in which the colonial administration responded to the needs of particular sectors of the economy, the establishment of Yaba College of Technology in 1932 trained professionals in agriculture, medicine, engineering and education—in direct competition with expatriates and the few Africans who had trained abroad. The Asquith and Elliot commissions on higher education of 1945 also saw the inception of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, a residential college system with branches in Ibadan, Zaria and Enugu (established between 1950 and 1954). A later education ordinance from 1948, along with other developments, led to the conception of University College Ibadan as an institution to train top-level manpower.28

Despite these developments, university education remained difficult to access during the colonial period, since the demand for more universities was ignored after the establishment of University College of Ibadan, based on considerations around finance and the need to sustain academic quality. Between 1948 and 1959 the college trained less than one thousand Nigerians.29

According to J.F. Ajayi, L.K.H. Goma and G.A. Johnson, there were four reasons for discontent with the British university model among Nigerians: enrolment was minimal, targeting members of the elite rather than the population as a whole; there was a need to open up the cloistered environment of the residential college system so as to allow students to live off campus; the curriculum was limited and did not include locally important history, African languages or religions, as well as specific applied sciences and technologies essential to developing a country which aspired to catch up with technologically advanced nations.30 These observations mirror those of the report published by the Ashby Commission on Higher Education in Africa in 1966—first initiated by Britain and the United States31—which commenced sitting in April 1959 with a mandate to project the twenty-year higher education need for Nigeria. The commission found that it took eight years to establish the department of education, and that departments for anthropology, sociology, public administration, law, geology, engineering, economics and Arabic or Islamic studies remained absent. In addition, the degree structure lacked sufficient flexibility in specializations, while the connection of existing universities to adjacent communities remained insufficient in terms of community service programs. There was also in Nigeria a demand for additional post-secondary education options, with divergent viewpoints expressed on how to ensure employment opportunities for prospective graduates, and a general concern over the lack of indigenous middle and upper-level professionals to occupy administrative positions after independence. The focus of the regional parties on primary education, especially in the West and East, meant that many more people needed opportunities for secondary and post-secondary schools to reduce the dearth of qualified candidates for such positions.32 According to the previously cited paper by Ajayi et al, in terms of opening up student recruitment and democratizing curriculum and degree structures, critics of the British university model preferred the land-grant college system in the United States (which focused on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering—without wholly excluding classical studies).

The resolution to establish the University of Nigeria by the Eastern Region legislature had been passed in 1955, the idea being to use the aforementioned American land grant college model, modified to the Nigerian environment. British academic circles immediately became apprehensive that this American system, focused as it was on classical, vocational and agricultural science research and tied to American support, would introduce a competing presence in the region. Further, Britain feared losing control of the colonies if the Carnegie Foundation was allowed to spearhead instituting Ashby Commission recommendation regarding the establishment of new Nigerian universities. This fear notwithstanding, when the Ashby Commission on Education was first initiated, it was in the postwar spirit of the Atlantic Charter and out of a desire to meet Nigerian nationalist’s demands for more opportunities in higher education.33

As background, the Carnegie Corporation (defined in the United States as a “general purpose foundation”) supported the minority view within the United States government about Africa, which preferred direct American participation in African affairs to reliance on the indirect route via Europe, with all the attendant baggage of the European colonial masters’ relationship with Africa. This minority view was reinforced by Vice President Richard Nixon’s report on his month-long tour of eight African countries in 1957, which he embarked upon after attending Ghana’s independence celebration. The Carnegie Foundation started implementing projects in Africa in the 1950s, one of those projects being the Ashby Commission. The commission consisted of Chairman Sir Eric Ashby, the Britons Drs. John Lockwood and E. Watts, three Nigerians representing each region—Shettima Kashim from the north, Dr. Sanya Dojo Onabamiro from the west and Kenneth Dike from the east—and Americans Francis Keppel, R. G. Gustavson and Harold Hannah.34 Aside from developing long-term educational policy, projected the future role Africa would play in world affairs, studied bilateral relations between the United States and Africa, and the foreseeable level of equity between America and Europe in terms of African interaction and cooperation.35 Education was seen as a factor that would facilitate political, social and economic growth, helping to develop the free institutions necessary for those democratic and economic ideals similar and allied to the West within the bipolar world of the Cold War.

Ashby Commission Chairman Sir Eric Ashby, (chosen for his knowledge of both British and American education systems) said it was the first time the United States, Britain and Africa had worked together to give direction to education in tropical Africa by combining British and American educational models. The commission also marked the beginning of US participation in education in the region.36 The membership constitution of the Ashby Commission and its resolution on the number and distribution of universities in Nigeria’s three regions—along with the fact of the existing relations between Israel and the Western Region government pre-independence—likely contributed to the selection of an Israeli architect as the designer of University of Ife. As the most prominent architect within the Israeli government, Arieh Sharon was the inevitable choice.

How University of Ife Was Conceived “Against the Run of Play”

The University of Ife was established against the recommendations of the Ashby Commission, who suggested that four universities be distributed amongst Nigeria’s three regions, with a fourth in Lagos, the federal capital. Since the University College of Ibadan in the west and the University of Nigeria in the east already existed, the two new additional universities were to be sited in Lagos and Nigeria’s Northern Region. On 27 August 1960, Dr. Onabamiro, the minister of education of the Western Region, submitted a minority report via letter (mentioned in a missive written by Sir Ashby to the Federal Minister of Education on 2 September 1960). This report, which rejected the recommendation of the Ashby Commission, was sent on the eve of Onabamiro’s resignation from that body. The minority report and ensuing letter of resignation cited commission recommendations that were, in the number and location of the proposed universities, against the interest of the Western regional government. The submission of the Ashby report itself to Federal Minister of Education Jaja Nwachukwu was executed on the eve of Nigerian independence, October 1960.37

The manifesto of the Action Group in Nigeria’s Western Region had previously made establishing schools one of its cardinal programs, accounting for the high level of education in southwestern Nigeria. Levels of primary and secondary education were already higher than elsewhere in Nigeria; the need to develop the tertiary level, especially in science and technology, accounted for Onabamiro’s rejection of the Ashby report recommendations. The provisional council of the University of Ife was therefore inaugurated unilaterally by the regional government on 26 June 1961. Given existing bilateral relations, before independence higher education may have already been discussed between the Western Region’s government and Israel, and this discussion was perhaps revisited with respect to the choice of Arieh Sharon—with the intention, it can be surmised, of avoiding the two Western parties to the Ashby Commission.

Arieh Sharon studied under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius as well as Hannes Meyer, Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joost Schmidt and Gunta Stölzl, whom he married in 1929—the same year as his graduation. Sharon’s professional profile began to increase after 1931, when he returned to Palestine to practice, with several high-profile projects, a series of lectures at Technicon (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa and, after Israeli independence, a position as head of the National Planning Department. In this latter role Sharon reported directly to David Ben-Gurion, founder and first prime minister of the new Israeli state. His good relationship with the new Israeli administration and his work on the master plan for the new state facilitated his appointment by the United Nations as an expert in the planning of New Delhi and Burma, as well as his role as a designer for the Israeli pavilion of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. These connections with the Israeli government may have contributed to his involvement with the different diplomatic initiatives Israel was in the process of developing with developing countries and states, including the nearly-autonomous Western Region of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Arieh Sharon’s most significant professional engagement after propagating the Bauhaus international style of Tel Aviv in the 1930s and Kibbutz planning in the 1940s and 1950s was with the University of Ife. Sharon was busy with the design and building of the Nigerian university from the early 1960s through to the early 1980s, with the first master plan of the university finished in 1961, in collaboration with the Nigerian firm AMY Ltd. The University of Ife was situated on a projected site of 13,000 acres, acquired for it on Ibadan-Ife Road, away from the traditional Ile-Ife city center. Its location in Ile-Ife, the historical source of the Yoruba, was determined in order to have another university far away from Lagos, then the administrative and business capital of Nigeria and site of the first Nigerian university in Ibadan. Though many other towns were considered, Arieh Sharon suggested Ile-Ife for its historical importance and status within Yoruba culture.

Obafemi Awolowo University: Oduduwa Hall and Hezekiah Oluwasanmi library.
Photo: Babatunde E. Jaiyeoba.

Sharon and the Nigerian planning team visited campuses all around the world to fulfill the desire of the Western Region government that the university competes with any other in the world. In particular, design ideas employed in Mayan centers in Mexico—characterized by interconnected building complexes surrounded by lush greenery, with structures fit into the landscape—fascinated Sharon and the study team, inspiring the basic outline of the campus.38 This and other examples of indigenous planning influenced the conception of the architecture of the Ife campus, which was expected to reflect the desires of the university’s founders and planning team that the new university make a marked contrast with the design conventions of existing, Occidental-inspired campuses in Nigeria.

In creating a Bauhaus-inspired version of tropical modernist architecture, Sharon employed the scientific approach of Hannes Meyer to interpret and respond to the tropical climate and the unique topographical characteristics of Ile-Ife Both Arieh Sharon and the founders of University of Ife were modernists, and in the twenty years of development starting from designing the master plan through the several stages of building the campus, Sharon developed a Bauhaus International Style inflected by traditional Yoruba cultural elements for the campus.39 As opposed to the tropical architecture of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, the British architects whose signature architecture and writings pervaded tropical architecture in British West Africa, his version differed significantly from his British colleagues. As observed by Inbal Ben-Asher Gitler and Hannah Le Roux, rather than the decorative and artistic outer brise soleil used by Fry and Drew, Sharon in his buildings deployed serrated volumes and strategically used local traditional sculptural forms as a means of providing protection from the elements.40 A World Bank document accessed in April 2019 confirmed that construction had to be stopped in Ile-Ife for some time due to lack of funds and that the construction cost at some point was split equally between the Western Region and the Federal government.41


The campus of Obafemi Awolowo University. Photos: Babatunde E. Jaiyeoba.

The origins of the University of Ife are that of a post-colonial educational institution, one whose establishment and design was a product of Nigerian colonial and pre-independence politics. Lessons can be learned from its history that would be greatly beneficial to sustainable development practices in today’s developing world.

The federalism practiced just prior to Nigerian independence was a product of the struggles for independence from the country’s colonial masters. It was a divisive form of governance, but ultimately of a type that allowed for autonomy in decision-making within the country’s ethnically diverse regions—including the possibility for the regions to initiate international relations, supporting healthy competition within different sectors of the economy, including agriculture, infrastructural development and education. The Yoruba of Western Nigeria have an adage—ti a ko ba mo ibi ti a nlo, a o mo ibi ti a ti nbo (perhaps the destination of a journey is difficult to locate but at least the beginning is known). One might well reflect back on the origins of Nigerian federalism for an overview of contemporary challenges to nation-states in the developing world. In today’s Nigeria, the present political arrangement is anti-development on the local level, since creativity and flexibility in pursuit of sustainable development objectives like education, infrastructure and international relations—as was the case with University of Ife—are difficult in practice. As autonomous federated units, each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT, Abuja) are too small both economically and socio-politically to embark on worthwhile projects without being dependent on the Federal Government of Nigeria. Also, each state cannot be taken seriously as a technical partner by developed countries for any form of project partnership or collaboration. Nigeria’s socio-cultural and religious diversity necessitate making sustainable development projects amenable to a diversity of processes and approaches, as was the case just before and in the early years of Nigerian statehood, when the larger autonomous federated units into which Nigeria was organized pre and post-independence succeeded in bringing to fruition a project as ambitious in scale as establishing the University of Ife.

In solving particular problems, international collaboration is inevitable. The connection between Arieh Sharon and the University of Ife is one illustration of a sustainable path to regional development. Also, local socio-political and economic reforms that prepare developing countries for mutually beneficial types of assistance and collaboration with developed countries are critical to global sustainable development.

The University of Ife is one of the outstanding legacies of a period of cooperation between Israel and the Western Regional government of Nigeria; its design is an ever-present reminder of what was once achieved in the modernist period, when international relations, design ideology and governmental policy combined to accomplish something of lasting value. Arieh Sharon’s brand of modernist architectural design stands as an exceptional example of how architecture can be a collaborative venture within the context of developing nations.

  • 1 Author Unknown: “Richard’s Constitution of 1946: Features, Merits and Demerits” (Accessed 3 May 2019:
  • 2 See J.A.A. Ayoade: “Intergovernmental Relations in Nigeria,” in: A Current Bibliography of African Affairs, Vol. 14 (No. 1), 1981, pp. 13–25.
  • 3 See John P. Mackintosh: “Federalism in Nigeria,” in: Political Studies, Vol. 10 (No. 3), 1962, pp. 223–247.
  • 4 See Ayoade, 1981.
  • 5 See Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa: “Ethno-religious Conflicts and the Elusive Quest for National Identity in Nigeria,” in: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 44 (No. 1), 2013, pp. 3–30.
  • 6 See Sola Akinrinade: “Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Nigeria: What Lessons for South Africa?” in: Strategic Review for South Africa, Vol. 22 (2), 2000, pages unknown. (Accessed 15 May 2019
  • 7 See Agbiboa, 2013.
  • 8 See R.A. Akindele, and Oye Oyediran: “Foreign Policy in Federal States,” in: International Journal, Vol. 41 (No. 3), 1986, pp. 600–625.
  • 9 Ibid.
  • 10 Samuel Decalo: “Israel and Africa: A Selected Bibliography,” in: The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 5 (No. 3), 1967 cited in: Ade Adefuye: “Nigeria and Israel,” in: International Studies, Vol. 18 (No. 4), 1979, pp. 629–647.
  • 11 See Ade Adefuye: “Nigeria and Israel,” in: International Studies, Vol. 18 (No. 4), 1979, pp. 629–647.
  • 12 See Olusola Ojo: “Israeli-South African Connections and Afro-Israeli Relations,” in: International Studies, Vol. 21 (No. 1), 1982, pp. 37–51.
  • 13 Y. Leo Kohn: “Israel and the New Nation States of Asia and Africa,” in: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 324 (No. 1), 1959, pp. 96–102.
  • 14 See Adefuye, 1979.
  • 15 See Claude S. Phillips Jr. (ed.): The Development of Nigeria Foreign Policy, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1964.
  • 16 See Adefuye, 1979.
  • 17 See Michael Brecher: “Israel and ‘Afro-Asia,’” in: International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis, Vol. 16 (No. 2), 1961, pp. 107–137.
  • 18 Ibid.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 See Bubawa Misawa: “The Middle East System and African Perceptions of Israel,” in: India Quarterly: A Journal of international Affairs, Vol. 46 (No. 2-3), 1990, pp. 171–187.
  • 22 See J. Ajami and M. Sours: “Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa: A Study of Inter-Action,” in: African Studies Review, Vol. 13 (No. 3), 1970, p. 406.
  • 23 See Jehudi Kanerek: “Israel Technical Assistance to African Countries,” Geneva-African Institute, Geneva 1968.
  • 24 See Kohn, 1959.
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 See Barbara A. Rhodes: Genesis of The 1959 Ashby Commission Report on Education In Nigeria (dissertation), University of Southern California, Los Angeles 1973. University Microfilm, A XEROX Company, Ann Arbor.
  • 27 Ibid.
  • 28 See Grace N. Nwogwugwu: “Future of Education in Nigeria: Historical Review of Objectives, Policies,” in: The Nigerian Observer, 2015. (Accessed 15 May 2019:
  • 29 Ogechi Anyanwu: “Experiment with Mass University Education in Post-Civil War Nigeria, 1970-1979,” in: Journal of Nigeria Studies, Vol. 1 (No. 1), Fall 2010, pp. 1–36.
  • 30 See J.F.A. Ajayi, L.K.H. Goma & G.A. Johnson: “The African Experience with Higher Education,” in: Higher Education, Vol. 35 (No. 4), 1998, pp. 473–474.
  • 31 See Rhodes, 1973.
  • 32 Ibid.
  • 33 See John Adeboye Adeyemo: “The Demand for Higher Education and Employment Opportunities in Nigeria,” in: The Dilemma of Post-Colonial Universities: Elite Formation and the Restructuring of Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, IFRA-Nigeria, Ibadan 2000, pp. 241–265. Available online: (accessed 27 April 2019). ISBN: 9791092312171. DOI: 10.4000/books.ifra.1024.
  • 34 See Rhodes, 1973.
  • 35 See Rhodes, 1973 and Adeyemo, 2000.
  • 36 See Rhodes, 1973.
  • 37 Ibid.
  • 38 See Karolina Bazylinska and Kathy Curnow: “Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria,” in: Bright Continent (accessed 29 April 2019:
  • 39 See Abimbola O. Asojo and Babatunde E. Jaiyeoba: “Modernism and Cultural Expression in University Campus Design: The Nigerian Example,” in: Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, Vol. 10 (No. 3), 2016, 21–35.
  • 40 See Inbal Ben-Asher Gitler: “Nation Building through Campus Architecture, Israeli Architects Arieh Sharon and Eldar Sharon’s Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Campus in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1962–1976 in: (accessed on 18 June 2019) and Hannah Le Roux: “Tropical Architecture / Building Skin,” in (accessed 18 June 2019).
  • 41 (accessed 28 April 2019).
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The Moscow Bauhaus Exhibition Catalogue (1931)

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Bauhaus in Russia — Haunted Houses

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To Philipp Tolziner

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Sketch One: Lotte and Hermina — Script-Reading and Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh

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●Artist Work
Scenes from the Most Beautiful Campus in Africa — A Film about the Ife Campus

Zvi Efrat, 2019, film stills from the exhibition video projection, 25 min, color, sound, English.
Courtesy of the artist. → more

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A Hot Topic — Tropical Architecture and Its Aftermath

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Letter from Asger Jorn to Max Bill — February 12, 1954

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This is a translation of one of the letters Jorn send to Bill. → more

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