Bata Villa

Early years In the springtime of 1909, Tomáš Baťa, then simply a humble Zlín-based industrialist, decided to build a home for his family. He turned to František Novák from nearby Vizovice, entrusting him with both its design and construction. The intention was to erect an unassuming one-storey building in Čepkov overlooking unspoilt natural surroundings along the River Dřevnice, the house being located towards the back of this well-chosen and extensive site. However, prior to fully completing the task at the end of the following year, the builder approached Jan Kotěra, a professor at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts, with an eye to modifying the blueprints.

Bata Villa

Early years In the springtime of 1909, Tomáš Baťa, then simply a humble Zlín-based industrialist, decided to build a home for his family. He turned to František Novák from nearby Vizovice, entrusting him with both its design and construction. The intention was to erect an unassuming one-storey building in Čepkov overlooking unspoilt natural surroundings along the River Dřevnice, the house being located towards the back of this well-chosen and extensive site. However, prior to fully completing the task at the end of the following year, the builder approached Jan Kotěra, a professor at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts, with an eye to modifying the blueprints.
The History of the Bata Villa

Kotěra took charge of architectural duties and progress was made. During the Villa’s construction, Kotěra elected to change the internal layout to lend it greater logic and character. He primarily altered the large central two-floor hall, enlarging and connecting it to the first floor by adding another stairway leading to a gallery. He also modified the exterior, attaining a more compact shape through a process of simplification. Complex design work was also carried out in adherence to detailed proposals he made. Eventually, in February 1911, the house was completed in accordance with Kotěra’s vision. Landscaping was carried out by the renowned Prague-based garden designer František Thomayer. However, work did not stop there. In front of the new façade a terrace was created, which enabled the ground floor to be partially linked to the exterior, also helping to avoid potential flooding issues.

He separated the terrace with two lateral arcades of walkways oriented inwardly that ended in pavilions, running to the bottom part of the garden in the form of stone breastwork. The architect also had a pergola built just in front of the façade. Meanwhile, the gateway to the premises featured the same smooth-facing red brickwork as applied elsewhere. Further additions were undertaken: in 1911-1915, Kotěra was responsible for the gardener’s house; in 1919, Kotěra’s graduate, Josef Stěpánek, supplemented the premises with a library; while in the early 1920s, Kotěra designed a small, interestingly positioned reception lodge. In 1926, another of Kotěra’s students, F. Gahura, altered the interior. The pergola was modified in 1931, and a few years later, in 1937, a garage was added, to be followed a year later by a swimming pool, designed and constructed by Vladimír Karfík.
Post-war history The Villa was repurposed in 1951-1952 as a base for youths and Pioneers, a type of scouting organization. However, this meant that the interior and exterior ended up radically compromised, which was compounded by a new road running past the front of the Villa, thereby destroying a large section of the former garden. Today, Kotěra’s architectural legacy is only visible in the essential elegance he lent the Villa’s structure. In addition, unfortunate city planning decisions over the decades also meant little attention was paid to the building practically and theoretically. In spite of this, its architecture remains distinct in many aspects. Aesthetic influences The fact is that the architect applied elements of traditionalism and well-established principles: the motif of an attractive courtyard – symmetrical, horizontally oriented and traditional; a somewhat nostalgic manor house made out of unusual materials, topped off with a spire, and with interiors furnished by artisans, reflecting geometric conventions that have long endured. Therefore, it would not appear to break any moulds, but essentially express a blend of the old with the new. However, Jan Kotěra did not just passively adhere to traditional conventions, as may be at first surmised. In order to explain this, it is necessary to examine the circumstances of the time in more detail. In the early 20th century, a new wave was present in architecture in Central Europe and elsewhere – neoclassicism, which had been born out of fatigue with the contemporary trend, i.e. a sudden and radical departure from tradition. Consequently, there was a need was to cling to longer established conventions. Nevertheless, this look back to the past was influenced by new architects arriving on the scene, these being creators of monumental structures (general constructions, or for public competitions) or of more traditional nature (extensive summer holiday resorts). This is most visible in Prague, where the Mánes group principally focused on sculpture that was informed by changes in contemporary French sculpture (mainly E. A. Bourdelle and A. Maillol). These drew on notions of classical ideals and ancient Greece, opposing the styles of impressionism and symbolism. Even the art world was not even immune to such stylistic tendencies. Architecturally, it was a time of rediscovery. An organization entitled The Club of Old Prague endeavoured to protect historical properties, hence provincial and country houses gained in importance – much like in contemporary Vienna – in the first half of the 19th century. Furthermore, the Biedermeier period had proven widely influential. In 1908, Prague’s Jubilee Exhibition became a show-piece for the new interpretation of classicism. One key feature was the Trade Pavilion, a structure created by J. Kotěra and his colleagues P. Janák, J. Gočár and J. Štursa, as well as an industrial school building, designed by Kotěra’s students at the College of Industrial Arts. Indeed, contemporary to this time, Kotěra’s erstwhile schoolfellow from the Viennese Academy, Josef Hoffman, was overseeing the Neo-classicist Viennese Exhibition. Kotěra went on to further develop his concepts, examples being the Prague Mozarteum, Bianca Villa and Viennese Lemberg Palace, but the highpoint of pre-war Czech neoclassicism was undoubtedly the Mandelík Chateau in Radboř, while his last architectural design was the Department of Law at Charles University. Even though most Viennese and German artists were following a direct path towards neoclassicism, Czech tendencies were informed by the preceding centuries, when classicist motifs had failed to gain traction. Consequently, stylistic principles adhered to a transformation of its general concepts, or – as in the case of Prague cubism – experimentation resulted in interesting forms coming about through the partial assimilation of other trends.
In addition to architectural kinship with fine aristocratic dwellings, the Bata Villa felt the effect of an altogether more humble contemporary sight – modern English housing. Hence, the Villa might represent a synthesis of these two apparently divergent traditional and modern influences. Therefore, it was an attempt to fuse principles that were considered at the time as being completely polarized from one another. Another facet refers to the notions of North and South. Here, this relates to a theory espoused by the Czech architectural theorist, Emil Edgar. In his essayThe Family Home he wrote about two contradictions of the architecture of the day – a fruitless historically-biased southern principle versus a sincere, introspective, true, spatial and simple tendency of the north. If anything, Jan Kotěra, with the active participation of his client, showed that it is possible to engender continuity between the south and north, as well as between the past, present and future. In fact, such principles even informed constructions in Zlín dating from the later inter-war period. These are largely evident in the polarity of the classically-biased F. L.Gagura and more functionalist V. Karfik. Early Central European modernism, particularly as expressed by the colleges and colleagues of O. Wagner from Vienna Academy (Kotěra was foremost in this number), highlighted the insular culture of life. This was in direct opposition to Renaissance doctrine governing the layout and interior furnishings of buildings; thereby the concept of an inside-out house was conceived. Consequently, due to an orientation towards functionalist aspects, including the requirements of habitation, such notions perfectly suited creating a central hall with a fireplace or a bay window offering up views of the garden outside. The Arts and Crafts Movement This revival of interest in handicrafts also had an impact on contemporary architecture, so as to meet the Gasamtkunstwerk (i.e. total work of art) ideal. Besides the initial intentions of the men at the forefront of this trend – Morris and Ruskin, a circle of artists from Glasgow, led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, made their influence felt, particularly through participation in the 8th Exhibition of Viennese Art Nouveau. Austrians but particularly Czechs took these ideas and significantly adapted them to suit their own folk traditions. In addition to Dušan Jurkovič, it was his friend Jan Kotěra who actively became involved. Such Anglo-Saxon heritage not only inclined towards a traditional lifestyle or a synthesis of art and crafts, but also offered up in an incentive of another type. Red bricks as a symbol Although smooth-facing brickwork had been relatively common since the 19th century in Central Europe, it was only with the onset of modernism that it assumed some sort of symbolic quality. In fact, it began to embody both sobriety and rationalism at the beginning of a new age, related with a refusal of the excesses of Art Décor, and the principle of democratic equality, i.e. that the material does not allow for differentiation of buildings. At the peak of modernism, it was again Kotěra who provided important examples – the museum in Kralovy Hradec, Laichter House in Prague, and the Mozarteum. Furthermore, in 1908-12, hence concurrently, a pupil and friend of Kotěra’s was inspired by North German, Dutch and Belgian architecture, this being Otakar Novotný, who also was promoting the use of smooth-facing brickwork, the Štenc House in Prague being notable.
Post-war history The Villa was repurposed in 1951-1952 as a base for youths and Pioneers, a type of scouting organization. However, this meant that the interior and exterior ended up radically compromised, which was compounded by a new road running past the front of the Villa, thereby destroying a large section of the former garden. Today, Kotěra’s architectural legacy is only visible in the essential elegance he lent the Villa’s structure. In addition, unfortunate city planning decisions over the decades also meant little attention was paid to the building practically and theoretically. In spite of this, its architecture remains distinct in many aspects. Aesthetic influences The fact is that the architect applied elements of traditionalism and well-established principles: the motif of an attractive courtyard – symmetrical, horizontally oriented and traditional; a somewhat nostalgic manor house made out of unusual materials, topped off with a spire, and with interiors furnished by artisans, reflecting geometric conventions that have long endured. Therefore, it would not appear to break any moulds, but essentially express a blend of the old with the new. However, Jan Kotěra did not just passively adhere to traditional conventions, as may be at first surmised. In order to explain this, it is necessary to examine the circumstances of the time in more detail. In the early 20th century, a new wave was present in architecture in Central Europe and elsewhere – neoclassicism, which had been born out of fatigue with the contemporary trend, i.e. a sudden and radical departure from tradition. Consequently, there was a need was to cling to longer established conventions. Nevertheless, this look back to the past was influenced by new architects arriving on the scene, these being creators of monumental structures (general constructions, or for public competitions) or of more traditional nature (extensive summer holiday resorts). This is most visible in Prague, where the Mánes group principally focused on sculpture that was informed by changes in contemporary French sculpture (mainly E. A. Bourdelle and A. Maillol). These drew on notions of classical ideals and ancient Greece, opposing the styles of impressionism and symbolism. Even the art world was not even immune to such stylistic tendencies. Architecturally, it was a time of rediscovery. An organization entitled The Club of Old Prague endeavoured to protect historical properties, hence provincial and country houses gained in importance – much like in contemporary Vienna – in the first half of the 19th century. Furthermore, the Biedermeier period had proven widely influential. In 1908, Prague’s Jubilee Exhibition became a show-piece for the new interpretation of classicism. One key feature was the Trade Pavilion, a structure created by J. Kotěra and his colleagues P. Janák, J. Gočár and J. Štursa, as well as an industrial school building, designed by Kotěra’s students at the College of Industrial Arts. Indeed, contemporary to this time, Kotěra’s erstwhile schoolfellow from the Viennese Academy, Josef Hoffman, was overseeing the Neo-classicist Viennese Exhibition. Kotěra went on to further develop his concepts, examples being the Prague Mozarteum, Bianca Villa and Viennese Lemberg Palace, but the highpoint of pre-war Czech neoclassicism was undoubtedly the Mandelík Chateau in Radboř, while his last architectural design was the Department of Law at Charles University. Even though most Viennese and German artists were following a direct path towards neoclassicism, Czech tendencies were informed by the preceding centuries, when classicist motifs had failed to gain traction. Consequently, stylistic principles adhered to a transformation of its general concepts, or – as in the case of Prague cubism – experimentation resulted in interesting forms coming about through the partial assimilation of other trends.
In addition to architectural kinship with fine aristocratic dwellings, the Bata Villa felt the effect of an altogether more humble contemporary sight – modern English housing. Hence, the Villa might represent a synthesis of these two apparently divergent traditional and modern influences. Therefore, it was an attempt to fuse principles that were considered at the time as being completely polarized from one another. Another facet refers to the notions of North and South. Here, this relates to a theory espoused by the Czech architectural theorist, Emil Edgar. In his essayThe Family Home he wrote about two contradictions of the architecture of the day – a fruitless historically-biased southern principle versus a sincere, introspective, true, spatial and simple tendency of the north. If anything, Jan Kotěra, with the active participation of his client, showed that it is possible to engender continuity between the south and north, as well as between the past, present and future. In fact, such principles even informed constructions in Zlín dating from the later inter-war period. These are largely evident in the polarity of the classically-biased F. L.Gagura and more functionalist V. Karfik. Early Central European modernism, particularly as expressed by the colleges and colleagues of O. Wagner from Vienna Academy (Kotěra was foremost in this number), highlighted the insular culture of life. This was in direct opposition to Renaissance doctrine governing the layout and interior furnishings of buildings; thereby the concept of an inside-out house was conceived. Consequently, due to an orientation towards functionalist aspects, including the requirements of habitation, such notions perfectly suited creating a central hall with a fireplace or a bay window offering up views of the garden outside. The Arts and Crafts Movement This revival of interest in handicrafts also had an impact on contemporary architecture, so as to meet the Gasamtkunstwerk (i.e. total work of art) ideal. Besides the initial intentions of the men at the forefront of this trend – Morris and Ruskin, a circle of artists from Glasgow, led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, made their influence felt, particularly through participation in the 8th Exhibition of Viennese Art Nouveau. Austrians but particularly Czechs took these ideas and significantly adapted them to suit their own folk traditions. In addition to Dušan Jurkovič, it was his friend Jan Kotěra who actively became involved. Such Anglo-Saxon heritage not only inclined towards a traditional lifestyle or a synthesis of art and crafts, but also offered up in an incentive of another type. Red bricks as a symbol Although smooth-facing brickwork had been relatively common since the 19th century in Central Europe, it was only with the onset of modernism that it assumed some sort of symbolic quality. In fact, it began to embody both sobriety and rationalism at the beginning of a new age, related with a refusal of the excesses of Art Décor, and the principle of democratic equality, i.e. that the material does not allow for differentiation of buildings. At the peak of modernism, it was again Kotěra who provided important examples – the museum in Kralovy Hradec, Laichter House in Prague, and the Mozarteum. Furthermore, in 1908-12, hence concurrently, a pupil and friend of Kotěra’s was inspired by North German, Dutch and Belgian architecture, this being Otakar Novotný, who also was promoting the use of smooth-facing brickwork, the Štenc House in Prague being notable.