Welcome to the Tomáš Baťa Memorial, which aside from the Zlín "skyscraper" (Baťa's Administrative Building No. 21) is probably the most significant structure in Zlín. The work of František Lýdie Gahura pays tribute to the founder of modern Zlín named Tomáš Baťa, who tragically departed. The Memorial is comparable in significance and quality to the Villa Tugendhat in Brno by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as well as to Prague's Villa Müller by Adolf Loos. The value of this structure was, however, hidden to most of us for many long years due to the pragmatic remodelling of the 1950s. Just nowadays, we are able to marvel at the restored beauty of this functionalist building, primarily thanks to the care dedicated to it by the city of Zlín.
Following two years of renovations in 2016–2018, the Memorial was officially unveiled on 27 May 2019. The tour focuses on the building's architecture and the model aircraft on display. It is a high-quality architecture worthy of this attention. We have been reassured of this by the interest of visitors, which has thus far been enormous. We are pleased that their feedback has also been unambiguously positive.
The Memorial is closely tied to the names of two figures: businessman Tomáš Baťa and architect František Lýdie Gahura. For this reason, let us begin with at least the basic facts about their lives and work.
He was a businessman, a politician and a benefactor.
Tomáš Baťa was born 3 April 1876 in Zlín. The shoemaking Baťa family had been living in Zlín for nine generations already. Tomáš attended elementary school in his home town. When Tomáš was eight years old, his mother died. Two years after her death, his father remarried and moved the family to Uherské Hradiště. There Tomáš completed what was known as citizen's school and joined his father's business.
In 1894, Tomáš agreed with his older siblings Antonín and Anna that they would set off on their own. Their father paid them a share of 800 Austrian gulden from the inheritance of their departed mother and the siblings returned to Zlín, where they founded their first shoemaking workshop. At the beginning, the business was under the name of Tomáš's brother Antonín, because Tomáš was still a minor. However, Antonín died of tuberculosis in 1908 and his sister Anna had left the company back in 1904 when she was wed. Tomáš Baťa thus remained the sole owner of the company and he ran it for a total of 38 years. During this time he turned it into a global giant of business and trade. By the start of the 1930s he has already doing business in 35 sectors of manufacture, trade, services, transport and finance. He had companies, shops and factories in 54 countries on four continents, employing 31 000 people. At the beginning of the 30s, Czechoslovakia became the largest global exporter of footwear primarily thanks to Tomáš Baťa.
Tomáš Baťa was however not only a businessman, but also a politician and a benefactor. For his employees, whom he called his co-workers, he built residential neighbourhoods, founded educational institutions, a hospital and also social and cultural facilities. Tomáš Baťa was firstly elected as a city mayor in 1923. By that time he had organised public education reform and he had supported enterprise by merchants, tradespeople and entrepreneurs. In several decades of such activity he transformed the provincial rural town of Zlín into a modern city full of green with exceptionally developed infrastructure. Over that time the population of the city increased more than tenfold.
Tomáš Baťa addressed the public in the whole country and abroad too with his programme of "Baťa's Public Service." The main slogan of the programme was: "Low prices – high wages." Tomáš Baťa expressed the principles of his business in 1931 as the following ones:
"Our business is a profitable one. Its technical, commercial and social apparatus has however reached such dimensions that simple profit has ceased to be its sole and ultimate aim... For this reason we would also like to increase the prosperity of the region in which we work, the land from which we draw our strength and the state that is the base for our business."
Unfortunately, his successful career was cut shortly by a tragic accident.
Tomáš Baťa died at the age of 56 years during a plane crash in Otrokovice on 12 July 1932. He was about to travel to Möhlin, Switzerland, where a new Baťa factory for producing rubber boots was being built. Baťa insisted on taking off even though the pilot and technicians tried to dissuade him due to poor weather. There was a thick fog at the airport that morning. The flight lasted just under eight minutes. The pilot lost his bearings in the fog and the aircraft crashed into the ground. At that moment ended the heartbeat not only of Baťa's factories, but also of the whole city of Zlín, of which Baťa was serving his third term as mayor. Dying along with Tomáš Baťa was his head pilot Jindřich Brouček. Both of them were buried at the newly established Forest Cemetery in Zlín.
Full name František Lýdie Gahura was born on 10 October 1891 in Zlín to the family of brickmaker and shoemaker František Gahura and his wife Anna.
He was an important architect, sculptor, urban planner and teacher.
Gahura added his middle name "Lýdie" after his wedding with Lýdie Rousová, thereby expressing his gratitude and respect for his wife, who gave up her own career to form a home environment for their family. He considered his wife not only as his life partner, but also as the co-author of his works.
Compared to Baťa, Gahura was nearly a generation younger. He had shown artistic leanings since a young age. He studied under sculptor and plasterer Alois Amort in Uherské Hradiště. Afterwards he studied at Prague universities: the School of Applied Arts in the years 1910–1917, where he was the pupil of sculptor and engraver Josef Drahoňovský and also the pupil of the prominent architect Jože Plečnik, who was later the architect of president T. G. Masaryk. Gahura subsequently also studied architecture under lead of Jan Kotěra at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1919–1923. His further career was tied to his native Zlín, for which he created a project for a new town hall in 1920 as a first-year student. He won the first prize in the competition and while studying he also took part in realization of the building in 1922–1924.
Gahura started to work for the Baťa company after returning from Prague. In 1924 he created a project for Tomáš Baťa entitled "A Factory in Gardens" and in the following years Zlín was built as a garden city based on his urban planning concepts. He designed a number of important buildings in Zlín, for example the Masaryk Experimental School (1928), the hospital (1927–1936), a department store (1931), the Grand Cinema (1932), the Educational Institutes (1936–1938) and a number of other public and residential structures. Also unique are his sacred architecture projects, e.g. the Church of Saint Anthony in Míškovice (1927) or the Chapel of Saint Wenceslas in Zlín-Kudlov (1927). He also produced building projects for the Baťa company outside of Zlín, he designed Baťa's industrial and garden towns abroad. No less important was his work on the urban layout of Zlín. The city was built for nearly twenty years according to his regulatory plan from 1935. Aside from his architectural practice he also devoted himself to sculpture his whole life.
The Tomáš Baťa Memorial was one of Gahura's last realizations for the Baťa company, even though he occasionally did work for it up until 1945. In 1933, however, he switched over to the services of the city's new mayor, Dominik Čipera, thus becoming Zlín's first municipal architect and dealing primarily with urban planning work. In 1946 he was forced to leave his position by the Communist city leadership. He began working as a planner for the Provincial National Committee in Brno, where he also moved with his family in 1949. Then he worked at the Research Institute of Architecture and he went into retirement for health reasons in 1951. He died nearly forgotten in 1958 after a serious illness. He is buried with his wife and children in the Forest Cemetery in Zlín.
Through their history, many buildings reflect not only the time they were created, but also historical events and the influence of important figures. Here, it is apparent the greatest influence of the figure of Tomáš Baťa, whose tragic death in a plane accident 12 July 1932 was the impulse for establishing the Memorial. The building of the Tomáš Baťa Memorial has also however become an important symbol of the advanced building culture of Baťa's Zlín and of the city's turbulent history.
In March 1933, Gahura outlined his idea for the Memorial building as follows:
"The purpose of the Memorial is ideological. For this reason, the construction standard used must be given an ideological content and form. For the architecture of the Memorial, I would like to express generosity, clarity, aspiration, optimism and simplicity – these were all attributes of Tomáš Baťa… Compositional simplicity… gives the façade a clarity and simplicity of expression. These were all characteristics of the spirit of Baťa."
When standing before the Memorial building and looking down, we see a green area along the city's north-south axis. There are two rows of school dormitories on the both sides of the axis. The building with the highest position in this area was first presented by Gahura with a sketch in February 1932. The planned use of this relatively large building was to be a museum. Tomáš Baťa's tragic death changed everything and the Memorial was to be born above Zlín.
The Memorial was built in record short time. Excavation work began in mid-March 1933 and on the first anniversary of Baťa's death, 12 July 1933, less than four months later, the Memorial was opened to the public. For comparison: the current restoration of the Memorial lasted more than two years.
By way of introduction, we should mention the urban planning concept of the space where the Memorial is located. This space is officially called T. G. Masaryk Square, but it is frequently also called Gahura Boulevard. It resembles a park more than a square, that corresponds precisely to Gahura's concept of a garden city.
The basis of this urbanistic structure is two rows of dormitories for young employees of the Baťa plants and students of company schools. As a matter of interest: the left row were boys' dormitories, the right girls' ones. The Memorial building thus crowns this area, in part by its placement in the highest position. Later, the two buildings of the Educational Institute were added along both sides of the Memorial. Educational Institute I from 1936 is the house of a grammar school and a language school. Educational Institute II from 1938, at one time the Baťa School of Art, is currently the police headquarters. The buildings are larger and taller than the Memorial itself, yet despite this the Memorial building does not lose its dominant position and monumental impression. The structure's monumentality is achieved primarily by emphasising the vertical elements. The most pronounced element of the façade are the protruding columns as well as the steel dividing elements in the glass outer layer. The uniqueness of the building is also assured by the fact that typical brick lining has not been used here – the façade is formed only of three materials: concrete, steel and glass.
The concept of the building means it is both a manifesto of modern architecture and a development of timeless compositional relationships of classical architecture stretching far back to its roots in Ancient Greek temples.
With this brilliantly simple, concise structure, the architect Gahura endeavoured to express the personality of Tomáš Baťa and his key attributes: industriousness, rationality, optimism, aspiration, generosity, as well as a certain austerity. With fully rational utilisation of the standard construction module of a pillar grid of 6.15 x 6.15 m (20 feet) designed for industrial structures in combination with glass cladding, a highly emotional effect of the entire structure was achieved. The overall design also references Gothic cathedrals. The space has three naves and it is formed solely of columns, which are an analogy of the Gothic support system, and glass, which is an analogy of Gothic cathedral windows.
When designing the Memorial, Gahura used what is known as the universal scale and the proportions of the building are based on the golden ratio. The symbolism of numbers was another important component of the Memorial while its designing. Here, the architect plays with the symbolism of the number three: the Memorial has three floors, the shorter facades are triaxial while the longer ones have six axes. There are six horizontal panes of glass and nine vertical ones between the individual columns. Each flight of stairs has 30 steps.
The staircase is also used symbolically: from the side view it forms the letter Z – Zlín.
Another simple symbol is the colour scheme, which evokes the Czechoslovakian tricolour: red floor, blue-lined staircases, white columns.
By far the most important area in the building (straddling two floors) is the part where the fateful plane is located. When the Memorial was firstly opened, this central area also featured a bust of Tomáš Baťa by the wall across from the entrance, neighboured by busts of his mother Anna and his brother Antonín, who co-founded the company with him. The rest of the ground floor was dedicated to Tomáš Baťa memorabilia. Later in 1934, the second floor, termed the gallery, was set aside for presenting a collection of historical and international footwear, while the third floor remained empty during this first period. Later, it was utilised for short-term exhibitions. For example in 1935, entry designs were presented here for an international housing competition whose jury featured the famous architect Le Corbusier.
In 1944 the third floor, at the orders of the German occupiers, was filled with the exhibits of the Municipal Museum. Towards the end of the war, in November 1944, the building's glass cladding was damaged during the bombing of Zlín and the building had to be closed.
To mention certain details of the interior, we can start with the floor. It is a classic floor as found in the majority of Baťa buildings, both industrial and public, featuring coloured concrete maintained by applying standard wax paste. In the upper two floors the original floor has been preserved; on the ground floor it had to be restored.
The building's glass also worthy of mention. The glass panels were custom produced by the Teplice-based company Glastetik. It is cast embossed glass. The embossing rollers were produced using special technology utilising several preserved panes of the original Memorial glass. The architect purposely did not use clear glass – the non-transparent cladding isolates the interior of the Memorial from the bustle outside and it creates an intimate and reverent atmosphere inside. Only a subdued diffuse light makes its way into the space from the outside with the pastel colours of the neighbouring structures and greenery.
The only significant furnishings in the Memorial are the "Luminator torch lamps", which provide all the lighting for the Memorial. These lamps have been remade precisely according to the original lamps chosen by Gahura. The light of the lamps is directly solely upwards, so that the space is lit indirectly by reflection off the ceilings, while at the same time creating remarkable shadows in the building's structure.
The exhibited plane is an exact model of the German aircraft Junkers F-13ge in which Tomáš Baťa died tragically along with his pilot Jindřich Brouček. The Baťa company purchased the plane in 1929 and operated it with registration number D-1608. The Junkers F-13 was the first fully metal plane globally, having been developed at the end of World War I. It was manufactured from 1919 until 1932 and over 300 units were sold. Technically speaking it was a low-wing monoplane (uncommon in the 1920s, still the era of biplanes) with a cockpit for a pilot and navigator and a cabin for four passengers. The Junkers F-13 was manufactured in many variants with various motors (Mercedes, BMW, Pratt & Whitney), but Baťa's craft had Junkers' own motor the L5.
After the fateful crash, the plane was repaired using the essential parts from another identical aircraft owned by the Baťa company, and it was installed in the Memorial in July 1933. It remained here until the year 1948, when it was removed from the Memorial, at that point all traces of it disappeared.
A faithful model of the aircraft was produced by the Olomouc-based company TechProAviation. Production was sponsored by Zlín's Tomáš Baťa Foundation, which managed to collect funding of nearly 6.5 million Czech crowns for this purpose. Of this total amount, 2.8 million Czech crowns was provided by the city of Zlín and nearly 2.5 million Czech crowns was donated by Baťa's family. The aircraft was installed here at the Memorial on 22 May 2019.
During the time of totalitarian communism, the Memorial had another role in store for it as everything associated with Tomáš Baťa had to be forgotten.
In 1948 the Memorial was renamed the House of Arts and in 1954–1955 it was converted by architect Eduard Staša. The ground floor and gallery were then used as a concert hall for the Zlín Philharmonic. The third floor became an exhibition hall for the regional fine arts gallery.
In 1998 the city of Zlín committed to returning the building, prized internationally, its former significance. In the new millennium there was even talk of returning the Memorial to its original form, and when the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic and Gallery of Fine Arts in Zlín acquired new adequate homes in 2011 and 2013 respectively, nothing any longer stood in the way of such a plan.
Realization of the restoration was made possible by a Ministry of Culture grant of 32 million Czech crowns. The total restoration costs slightly exceeded 50 million Czech crowns.
In 2013 the House of Arts was cleared out and in 2016 renovation work began. The restoration was completed in December 2018.
The new era of the restored original appearance of the Tomáš Baťa Memorial began with the grand opening 27 May 2019.
For those who wish to take home a lasting souvenir of their visit to the Memorial, we offer the Czech-English publication: TESTAMENT – MANIFESTO Tomáš Baťa Memorial. The book was prepared by a team of authors led by editors-in-chief Eva Končalová and Petr Všetečka. The dominant feature of the book is the excellent graphic design by Petra Jiroušková and the unique accompanying photos prepared by Libor Stavjaník from his own and archival photographs. You can purchase the publication at the Infopoint of Tomáš Baťa Memorial.