Ivor de Wolfe
Depending on who you ask, Civilia is a city plan, a polemical diatribe or a work of outstanding architectural collage. Subtitled “The End of Sub Urban Man,” the 1971 book imagines a futuristic city—to be built on a site slightly east of Birmingham, UK—in which a million inhabitants might live in close-packed harmony.
Author Ivor de Wolfe (a pseudonym adopted by Architectural Review editor Hubert de Cronin Hastings) planned Civilia as a rebuke to the postwar town planners’ infatuation with suburban expansion. “The need today is not to expand but to contract urban development,” he writes, damning suburban houses as “Mindless little boxes that kipper the ground like the locusts they resemble.” De Wolfe’s imaginary city makes dense habitation possible by having buildings on multiple levels—sometimes vaulting over each other—connected by escalators and pedestrian walkways. He illustrates his plans with lavish collages, a bricolage of interlocking brutalist blocks that jut out at improbable angles. The countryside, unspoiled by any further development, would be visible but rarely visited.
The critic Frederic Osborn—a leading advocate of the garden city movement—branded the project an “odious damned lie.”
Was it all just a pipe dream? “Only for people who have wandered so far into a pathological state that common sense is bound to seem mad,” de Wolfe insists.