This article argues that development and modernity have had spatial manifestations. It considers understandings of modern space in colonial and post-colonial Nigeria through the study of University College Ibadan, the country's first university institution founded in 1948. It contends that the university was shaped by existing West African conceptions of modern space and university buildings took on new meanings with the shifting politics of decolonization. The article also suggests that colonial development involved a range of groups and forms of knowledge. It seeks to recognize the strength of colonial institutions and cultures but also the limits to and contingencies in late colonial power.