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AGENDA | Zlín – Model Town of Modernism

November 23, 2009

The rise of the small town Zlín in the east of the Czech Republic to the centre of the biggest European shoe manufacturer Bat’a is a unique economic and social, but also an architectural phenomenon.

Zlín is a “model town of Modernism”, since many architectural and social ideals that politicians, entrepreneurs and architects propagated as visionary after World War I, had been realized there. Thus the town, that Le Corbusier described as a “shining phenomenon”, became a kind of pilgrimage site for all kinds of proponents of progress in the 1930s. At the turn of the century, the small place in which Tomáš Bat’a had founded a shoe factory together with his brother and sister in 1894, had 3,000 inhabitants, steadily developing to 43,000 by 1938. Thrilled by the ideas and production methods of the most successful car manufacturer of the time, Henry Ford, and the founder of the science of management, Frederick W. Taylor, the entrepreneurs Tomáš and Jan Antonin Bat’a had the small place systematically developed into a kind of huge laboratory for communal life and work, establishing a system in which the entire town and all its inhabitants were only serving one single purpose – the increase of shoe production. Not only the division of labour, timekeeping and conveyor belts, but also captive social facilities such as nurseries, schools and a hospital as well as a department store, a sports club and a large cinema, aimed at this target. Architecture should also contribute to forming new and better-working people.

Tomás Bat’a Memorial, Zlín, 1938 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

School of Arts Zlín, outdoor drawing class, 1940s [© MZA – SOKA ZLíN, MORAVIAN PROVINCIAL ARCHIVE IN BRNO – STATE DISTRICT ARCHIVE ZLíN]

The town is divided into zones assigned to the areas of working, living, spare time and traffic – a separation of functions corresponding to the key concepts of modern town building that were later propagated in the „Charta of Athens“. Decisively influenced by the architects František L. Gahura and Vladimír Karfík, almost all public buildings were developed on a planning grid of 6.15 by 6.15 metres, a uniform measurement which literally served as a standardization of work and life. Starting out from Zlín, Bat’a had factories and towns erected in other countries and continents as a smaller version of Zlín using modern architecture to convey a company-related identity and modernity.

View of the Bat’a premises with administration building No. 21 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

View of the labour Square with cinema, Bat’a community centre and the entrance to the Bat’a premises, Zlín, mid of 1930 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

Members of the jury of the international housing competition, Edo Schön, Vladimír Karfík and Le Corbusier (from left to right) on the terrace of the Community building, Zlín, April 1935 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

Now, there is an exhibition that has adapted parts of the Prague show “The Bat’a Phenomenon“ (National Gallery, spring 2009) but has been restructured for Munich. By means of models, plans, objects, photographs and films the architectural development, the linkage of cultural and social life in Zlín as well as the worldwide circulation of Bat’a’s ideas are presented and critically reflected. A separate area, specifically compiled for the Munich show, will be dealing extensively with Le Corbusier’s planning concepts for Bat’a – which have so far been hardly known, even in expert circles (expansion of Zlín, a standard plan for the French shoe shops, the French satellite town Hellocourt and the Bat’a pavilion for the World Fair in Paris in 1937). Some of the original drawings of the Fondation Le Corbusier will be shown for the first time. A big model of the World Fair pavilion – only known as a plan so far – can be experienced in its spatial form for the first time.

Frantisek L. Gahura, site map “ZLÍNA”, 1934 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

Le Corbusier, draft for the Bat’a pavilion for the Paris World Fair, 1937 [© FLC 17.814 A / VG BILDKUNST, BONN 2009]

Le Corbusier, map of the french Bat’a satellite town “Urbanisation d’Hellocourt”, 18 July 1936 [© FLC 17.806 / VG BILDKUNST, BONN 2009]

Aerial view: workers’ colonies of Bat’a factory in the district Díly, Zlín, start of construction 1930 [© KGVUZ, REGIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ARTS IN ZLíN]

Zlín – Model Town of Modernism
Place: Pinakothek der Moderne – Munich, Germany.
Opening: 18.11.2009, 19.00
Duration of exhibition: 19.11.-21.02.2010

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 15, 2009 5:30 pm

    For a bit on what the Bata legacy has meant for Zlin’s transition — and the role Bata’s technology played in the development of Communist-era panel houses — read

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