The History of the Bata Villa
by Doc. Pavel Zatloukal, Museum of Art Olomouc
In the springtime of 1909 the then-unknown Zlín industrialist Tomáš Baťa decided to build a family home. He presently turned to František Novák from nearby Vizovice, entrusting him with both design and construction. In the rear part of the beautifully chosen and extensive piece of land at Čepkov, an unassuming one-storey building was built overlooking unspoiled natural surroundings over the Dřevnice River.
Still before completion of the construction at the end of the following year, the builder discontinued his work and approached Jan Kotěra, professor at Prague's Academy of Fine Arts, with a request for reworking and augmenting the blueprints.
In January and February 1911 the construction was completed according to Kotěra's version. The park landscaping was designed by the renown Prague garden architect František Thomayer. Inside the half-constructed building, Kotěra mainly performed some changes in the layout, by which he tried to instill a more significant logic and character. He mainly adapted a larger central two-floor hall, which he enlarged and connected with the first floor by an additional stairway leading to the gallery. He also changed the exterior; to attain a more compact shape he significantly simplified the exterior. Difficult design work was also realized according to his detailed proposals.
No less meaningful were the architectural neologism. In front of the new façade he created a terrace, which partly enabled direct connection of the ground floor with the exterior and partly solved probable the inundation problems. He separated the terrace with two lateral arcades of walkways oriented inwards and terminated in pavilions and running to bottom part of the garden in form of stone breastwork. He also had a pergola built just in front of the façade.
He then designed a fence and entrance to the premises out of the same material, red fair-face brickwork. The premises underwent a number of changes later as well; from 1911 - 1915 Kotěra also built a gardener's house, in 1919 proposals for a library were taken up by Kotěra's graduate, Josef Stěpánek, and at the beginning of the 1920s Kotěra designed a small, interestingly positioned receptionists lodge. In 1926 another ofěra's student F.L. Gahura changed a part of the interior. In 1931 the pergola was modified. In 1937 a garage was built and a year later Vladimír Karfík designed construction of a swimming pool on the premises.
From 1951-1952 upon adaptation and reconstruction into a Pioneer and Youth Home, the interior and exterior was seriously interfered with and the routing of a roadway in front of the Villa the devastating effect was completed, practically liquidating a fundamental part of the grounds. Today, only a slightly eloquent torso remains from the Kotěra's architecture. This fact and mainly the city planner caused that in the past decades only a minimum attention was paid to the building in terms of material and theoretic points. In spite of this, as we try to indicate, this architecture was distinct in many aspects.
Distinct? The architect here walked in the footsteps of traditionalism and applied long-tried principles: the motive of a fair courtyard, symmetric, horizontally oriented and traditional, somewhat nostalgic manor house made out of unordinary material, topped with an indispensable spire, with interiors furnished with the virtuosity of a craftsmanship, but like a reflection of the geometric concept through years developed.
Seemingly nothing new, seemingly just an expression of fatigue of old invention and fantasy. Jan Kotěra here made a statement with a tradition, although far from passive, as it may seem at first glance. For the sake of clarity let's divide the questions that he tried to solve in Zlín, into several groups.
Around 1908 in central European architectonic history - and immediately in several centers at the same time - a new phenomenon emerged, a wave of neoclassic design. It partly stemmed from the aforementioned fatigue, which logically arrived upon the immediate and radical modernistic break with tradition and tended to search for certainties in the footholds of the past, as well as with confrontation of budding creators, who arrived at a number of jobs of monumental character (constructions, public competitions) or traditional (extensive summer resorts).
In Prague's environment, concretely in the group Mánes, mainly closely with the development of sculpture which, under the influence of changes in contemporary French sculpting creation (mainly E.A. Bourdelle and A. Maillol), drawing on the authority of classic ideal and cult of ancient Greece, opposed impressionism and symbolism.
Not even painting remained on the sidelines, if we take into account only the episode of Kubišt's relationship towards Poussin. Even under the influence of the Club for Old Prague, in whose milieu - similar as in the contemporary Vienna - provincial and country seats were discovered in the first half of the 19th century, and immediately rehabilitated, and all the Biedermeier on a wide canvas.
In the aforementioned 1908, a newly formulated use of the relationship to the Classical style was demonstratively expressed during one of the most remarkable Czech public enterprises, at the Prague Jubilee Exhibition. Along these lines the exhibition was dominated mainly by the Trade Pavilion, the work of J. Kotěra and his coworkers P. Janák, J. Gočár and J. Štursa and the industrial school building from Kotěra's students at the Industrial Arts School.
Nevertheless, at about this time, Kotěra's erstwhile time schoolmate from the Viennese Academy, Josef Hoffman, used to design the Neo-classicist Viennese exhibition.ěra further developed these intentions even in following years (Prague Mozarteum, Bianca Villa, Viennese Lemberg Palace), and the highpoint of Czech pre-war neoclassicism became his Mandelík Chateau in Radboř, and his last architectural work, the Department of Law at Charles University.
While the majority of Viennese and German artists went straight towards neoclassicism, in the Czech environment where, under the influence of the development of previous centuries, classic tendencies couldn't gain ground easily, a transformation occurred of mostly general principles, and/or - as in the case of the Prague cubism - interesting parallels were drawn with otherwise stylistically oriented currents.
Aside from the direct relationship to pre-March aristocratic seats, the of the Bata Villa's architecture, however, reflected another remarkable point of its period and in the tradition anchored phenomenon, the design of an English family home.
Bata's Zlín Villa may therefore be interpreted as an attempt by its author to create a synthesis. It was an attempt at synthesis between tradition and a vision of the future. However, it was also an attempt at a synthesis of principles that were in the polemics of the day completely polarized.
In the period when the Czech architectural theorist, Emil Edgar, in his essay - the Family Home - escalated two contradictions of the architecture of the day, the fruitless historically-oriented southern principle versus the sincere, inward-looking, true, spatial, simple and affective tendency of the north, "after all triumphant in our country as well", the Czech architect, Jan Kotěra, certainly with an active participation of his customer, showed that it's possible to find, maintain and inhere continuity between the "south" and the "north", and between the past and future, as well as in the present.
After all, the inosculation of the mentioned principles continued even in the year of the remarkable construction of the interwar period Zlín. It was mostly expressed in the polarity of a more classically-oriented F.L.Gagura and a rather organist V.Karfik.
Typically for the outset of the mid-European architectural Modernism and specifically for the scope of schools and fellow-workers of O. Wagner from the Vienna Academy (here Kotěra belonged to the forefront too), the recognition of an insular culture of living even became a principle impulse.
On one hand as the relativism of the hitherto binding Renaissance canon of a representative layout and interior furnishings to achieve an exactly opposite principle, i.e. the conception of a house inside out. Consequently, by the orientation towards functionalistic aspects, including the habitation requirement; such orientation perfectly suited the concentration of living around a central hall with a fireplace and/or a contemplative bay window opening up vistas over the garden.
On the other hand by rehabilitating the decadent and effete handicraft creation having its share in the construction, to meet the Gasamtkunstwerk ideal. Besides the Morris's and a Ruskin's initial incentives, it was the circle of artists from Glasgow, lead by Ch. R. Mackintosh, that made their direct impulse most felt - particularly in connection with the participation in the 8th Exhibition of Viennese Art Nouveau.
The Austrian and in particular the Czech milieu later began to significantly enrich these incentives by matching them up with folklore inspirations. Besides Dušan Jurkovič, it was his friend, Jan Kotěra, that took an active part in this. Anglo-Saxon incentives, however, consisted not only in the legacy inclining towards the tradition of living or a synthesis of art and crafts, but in an incentive of another type.
Although fair-face brickwork was in Central Europe a relatively frequented phenomenon from the 19th century, however, only with the onset of the Modern Style this assumed all but symbolic character. To wit, this began to embody both the impersonation of sobriety and rationalism of the beginning of a new age (related with the refusal of Décor) and the principle of a democratic equality (that doesn't differentiate buildings, besides others).
In the paramount phase of architectonic Modernism, it was again Kotěra who furnished significant examples of its use (both the Museum in Kralovy Hradec, Laichter House in Prague, and the aforementioned Mozarteum).
The more so because in 1908-12, consequently at the same time, inspired by studying the North German, Dutch and Belgian architecture, his pupil and friend, Otakar Novotný, was also passing through his "fair-face brickwork" period (in particular the Štenc House in Prague).