Zvi Efrat (Tel Aviv): Tropical Modernism – the Case of Ile-Ife Campus in Nigeria

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In this lecture, I will present and discuss the documentary film, The Most Beautiful Campus in Africa (24 minutes).

The film, shot in 2019, explores the planning and design of the Ife University campus (now known as Obafemi Awolowo University) in Nigeria. The campus was conceived in 1960, immediately after Nigeria’s independence, as part of the initial decolonization and nation-building process and in protest against British colonial education policy.

Arieh Sharon, a Bauhaus graduate, and Hannes Meyer’s protégé, was chosen for the design of the campus. Sharon, who became in the early 1950s head of Israel’s State Planning Authority, was involved with the master-planning of the Ife campus and the design of many of its buildings, in collaboration with the Nigerian office of A.A. Egbor,  for over two decades, from 1960 until the early1980s, a formative period in Nigerian culture and education referred to by some as post-colonial, by others as quasi-colonial.

What makes the story of this campus epic is a genuinely shared ambition of all politicians, educators, and planners involved to construct architecture itself as the ultimate pedagogical apparatus, the scaffold, and casing of a new intellectual agenda, a new curriculum, and new layouts of formal and informal academic activity. Specifically, it is colonial modernism, in its rather transposable Structuralist, Brutalist, and Tropical modes, that seems to be effectively exacerbated and reclaimed as a (passively) well-tempered environment readily adaptable to the local habitus.

Prof. Dr. Zvi Efrat, Architect and Architectural Historian, is a partner at Efrat-Kowalsky Architects and was Head of the Department of Architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. His book, The Israeli Project: Building and Architecture 1948-1973, was published in Hebrew in 2004 by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His book The Object of Zionism, The Architecture of Israel was published by Spector Books, Leipzig, in 2018. His film The Most Beautiful Campus in Africa was shown at the Bauhaus Imaginista exhibition at HKW Berlin, 2019.

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