Archives unveil Zlín’s famous Baťa villa had different author than previously assumed


The villa of the founder of the global shoe empire Baťa was not built by the famous Czech architect Jan Kotěra as had been assumed by historians for many decades. Freshly discovered evidence from the archives shows that the building, which now functions as the headquarters of the Thomas Bata Foundation, was in fact constructed by a lesser known architect called František Novák.

Tomáš Bata's villa in Zlín | Photo: Roman Verner,  Czech Radio

Tomáš Baťa was already employing hundreds of workers in Zlín when, in 1909, he decided to have a villa built for himself and his family in his native city. Strategically positioned to enable Baťa to look at his shoe factory, the house took three years to build and was relatively modest for its time.

Jan Kotěra | Photo: Vladimír Jindřich Bufka,  1914,  Zlatá Praha,  public domain

For many years, historians had thought that the main architect in charge of its construction was Jan Kotěra, back then the freshly appointed professor of architecture at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts who was known as a pioneer of modernism.

However, researcher Vít Marek told Czech Radio that he has discovered new materials in the archives which show that it was in fact built by František Novák, a local from the nearby town of Vizovice who had already worked for Baťa in the past, designing the first Baťa factory near Zlín’s train station.

“František Novák was the main builder of the villa. Until now it wasn’t known what phase of construction the building had been in when Jan Kotěra first came to Baťa. I managed to discover that the villa had most likely already been finished and that Kotěra was not involved in finalising it but in adapting it. He had relatively little impact on the final look of the building. Rather, he added to it. The main addition by the famous architect was that he modified its garden.”

Novák would go on to build a whole neighbourhood of family houses in his native town, of which he was also in charge as mayor from 1909-1919. A more traditional architect than Jan Kotěra, Novák tended to incline towards a more historic design in his buildings. The original design was later slightly modified by Kotěra when he himself got involved in the project. This combination resulted in the final, for the times unconventional, look of the building, says the researcher.


“The villa is therefore unique because it brings these two architectural styles together. You can see this for example by how Kotěra significantly simplified the house’s façade and tried to stamp a more modern feel onto it in general.”

Kotěra, he says, also played a leading role when it came to designing the interior of the building, including the cladding on the walls.

The villa and its garden would be worked on further in the subsequent decades by other leading Czechoslovak architects and artists. However, its unique interior design and garden were significantly disrupted after it was nationalised by the Communists and converted into a home for their Pioneer youth organisation in the 1950s.

Returned to the Baťa family in 1992 and subsequently reconstructed, the building now serves as the headquarters of the Thomas Bata Foundation. Its director, Gabriela Končetíková, says that it remains a very pleasant space to work in.

“Whether it be thanks to the way that it was conceptually designed, or in how the individual rooms are functionally connected to each other, you can see that the architects really thought about how to use each individual space. The house is very nice during the day. For example, it is beautiful to watch the sunset in the library. You almost feel like Bata is still here.”

Further details on Vít Marek’s research into the Baťa villa can be found in the journal Prostor Zlín, which is published by the Regional Gallery of Fine Arts in Zlín.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Růžena Vorlová , Roman Verner
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