This lecture relates university architecture in Anglophone West Africa to development and decolonisation politics. Development and decolonisation were central issues in mid twentieth century West Africa, and informed the activities of both architects and their critics. The lecture charts the rise and fall of an era in which ideas about university architecture, African liberation, and development were tightly intertwined. It starts in the 1930s, when nationalists demanded the creation of universities in West Africa British colonial authorities bowed to these demands in the late 1940s, founding universities in Ibadan, Nigeria and Legon, Ghana. University buildings became symbolic of development, but they were designed by British architects and represented recognisably British visions of progress. The lecture traces West African debates about these buildings. the university buildings at Ibadan and Legon became the model for a new generation of universities founded in the 1960s that was both supported by foreign aid, and intended to power the development of newly independent West African nations. By the end of the 1960s these universities had failed to deliver the rapid transformation of African societies they had promised, and their buildings were criticised as grandiose, elitist, and irrelevant to development. The lecture concludes by exploring how these buildings have been seen as ambivalent symbols of modernity ever since.
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