Vladimír Karfík

Date of birth 26. 10. 1901 Idrie
Date of death 6. 6. 1996 Brno
During his fifteen years in the Baťa Company, Vladimír Karfík became one of the most important architects of those who took part in shaping the rapidly developing city of Zlín. He was born on 26th October 1901 in Idria, Slovenia, where his father worked as a doctor. In 1905 the family returned to Prague where Vladimír Karfík studied at elementary and secondary school (1912–1919). In 1919 he entered the Faculty of Architecture at the Czech Technical University in Prague. The early post-war years were still led by representatives of Art Nouveau or neoclassicism (Josef Fanta, Antonín Engel), but among Karfík's classmates were also avant-garde architects (Karel Honzík, Adolf Benš, Jaroslav Fragner, and others). Karfík was a member of the Association of Architecture Students and the Club of Architects, which published the Stavba magazine. Through specialized periodicals (ReD, Stavitel, and Styl), he became acquainted with contemporary developments and new trends such as constructivism or functionalism. After graduating, he left for Paris (1924–1926), where he worked in the office of Le Corbusier, participating with others on the plan for the new centre of Paris, Plan Voisin, and where he met Adolf Loos. In 1927, he travelled to the USA to explore the architecture of the Chicago School and to work at Holabird & Root, a large design office specializing in skyscrapers. There he coincidentally met Frank Lloyd Wright, and joined his studio, which had an international scope, in 1928. In 1929 he returned to Chicago, where he met Jan Antonín Baťa, who offered him a job in Zlín. With the Great Depression starting to take effect, Karfík accepted the offer and on May 3rd, 1930, joined the construction department of the Baťa Company.
In Zlín Karfík utilised the experience gained working in America in his designs for the so-called Service Trades Houses in Brno (1930), Bratislava (1930), and Liberec (1931). For the first time, he applied a standardized construction system of 6.15 x 6.15 m to a religious structure - the church in Petržalka, Slovakia (1930). In 1932 he completed the Community House Hotel (1932), where he designed an American-style interior in which each room has its own bathroom, and with large glowing neon lights reminiscent of department stores in the big cities of America.
One of his best known designs for the Baťa company is the Communal House in Otrokovice (1935), rising from a three-pointed star plan. As an avid sportsman and a tennis player, Karfík designed several sports facilities: tennis courts, and swimming pools (in Otrokovice, and also in Zlín - the no longer preserved “Baťák”) with a distinctive concrete slide and state-of-the-art technical equipment. In 1935 he worked on the design of the first film studios and in the same year participated in the Baťa Company’s international competition for a family house. Thanks to Karfík's ties, Le Corbusier became a member of the jury. Karfík's competition design can still be seen in the Nad Ovčírnou district. He lived in this house with his family for ten years. In a private building, free from the rules of Baťa construction department, the inspiration by F. L. Wright's houses is clearly discernible. The directorial villas built between 1939 and1942 are located on large plots of land on the outskirts of Zlín. These villas often develop the motifs of a gradually growing floor plan, large chimneys, a careful relationship with the surrounding countryside and using deep terraces and "Wright-like" corner windows.
As head of the Baťa Company Construction department, Karfík participated in the design of public, commercial, and religious buildings, as well as in the development of standardized workers' housing. When the company expanded overseas, he also created the master plan for the East Tilbury factory (1932, UK). Probably the most important building Karfík ever designed is the administrative building of the Baťa Company, Building No. 21 (1937–1938), which was, with a height of 77.6 metres, the tallest building in Central Europe at the time.
Immediately after World War II, Karfík worked on a new master plan for Zlín, before moving to Bratislava in 1946, where he co-founded the Faculty of Architecture at the Slovak Technical University. He continued to realise projects in Zlín, however, such as residential houses at Obeciny (1946) and the building for film laboratories at Kudlov (1950). In the 1950s, Karfík participated in the development of a prototype of prefabricated panel buildings and the BA system (named according to its place of origin, Bratislava). In Slovakia he continued designing and teaching (the Faculty of Pharmacy, Charles University and the University of Economics, Prague, 1953–1955), and published several textbooks, dealing mainly with office buildings.
Vladimír Karfík was a member of the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) from the 1930s to 1956. In addition to his teaching activities, he also cooperated with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, since the 1970s was a researcher at the State Institute of Urbanism and Spatial Planning (URBION) in Bratislava. Between 1979 and 1982 he taught at the Faculty of Architecture in Malta, where he also designed. From 1983 until his death in 1996 he lived in Brno. He received many awards for his architectural practice, his teaching, and his writings, and he was an honoured member of the American Institute of Architects (1985). His most prestigious honour came after 1989, when he was awarded a gold medal by President Václav Havel.