Department Store

Date 1930–1931
Code Z1
Address náměstí Práce 2523, Zlín
Public transport Public transport: náměstí Práce (TROL 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, BUS 38)
GPS 49.2224606N, 17.6621733E

High-rise houses were a symbol of the prosperity and technological progress with which America in the 1920s enchanted Europe. Even in Czechoslovakia there are several designs where architects had dealt with the construction of high-rise buildings. However, there was no builder who really dared to realise this bold typology, until Tomáš Baťa, a successful entrepreneur and also a promoter of the American way of life, trusting in rationalisation and social progress. According to the proposal of Vladimír Karfík, the first skyscraper was to be built in Brno in 1931. However, both official and technical obstacles led to the abandonment of this ambitious plan and the company focused its efforts into the newly emerging Department Store in Zlín. The nine-storey building was one of the largest and most modern shops in Czechoslovakia. Together with the Social House and the Office Building, which were built only a few years later, a modern public space was created for the movement of thousands of company employees (in 1932, there were over 32 thousand).
Designs of department stores, sometimes called houses of services were created in the Construction Department of the Baťa Company, which until 1933 was led by František Lýdie Gahura. He is considered to be the main author of the Zlín Department Store, even though the plans were only signed by engineer Martinec. One of the main criteria was the cost and efficiency, which is why the 6.15 × 6.15 m construction system tested on factory buildings and on the building of the neighbouring Market Hall is used. When installing the building on the plot, the siding leading from the factory to the brickworks had to be taken into account, as well as the slightly sloping terrain. A standardised reinforced concrete skeleton with 3 × 13 fields allowed for the creation of flexible sales and storage areas. Access to the building was possible from three sides: the west, east and north façades. The architect's ingenuity is particularly visible on the façade. The height of the glazing gradually decreases from the lower floors - shop windows - to the upper floors with warehouses and offices. Technological marvels at that time included the "moving staircases" installed in 1934 between the 2nd and 3rd floors. The escalators were in operation until the 1980s, when they were dismantled.
The idea of a new type of department store had to accommodate self-promotion. The white façade served as an advertising space informing of sales events and services inside the building. Great attention was paid to the shop windows, the way products were displayed and the composition of the entrance to the store. The use of large glass panes was an important element so that "everyone can look into its insides". The corporate strategy also involved lighting the department stores at night. The shop windows were illuminated by spotlights whose rays would not reach to the street. Under the slogan “light attracts people” all public buildings situated on náměstí Míru shone (as well as the fountain in the middle of park greenery). Neon lights copied the basic contours of the buildings, testified to the modern spirit, and at the same time gave the Zlín square an urban character.
The Department Store was also concerned with the physical welfare of employees. The restaurant, equipped according to current trends, whose weekly menu was advertised in the Baťa newspaper, offered cheap refreshment. In addition to food, customers could also buy textiles, kitchen utensils, fuel, furniture and other products. For example, a dairy equipped with modern technological apparatus could process up to 20,000 litres of milk a day, and there were also cafeterias, cafes, a fishmongers, a butchers, and a coffee roaster. On the seventh floor, a Dining Room for young men and women, housed in nearby dormitories, was set up. As with factory operations, store managers were motivated by a share in profits to become more diligent and responsible for the sales figures, with goods and services organised and strategically thought out based on foreign department stores.
In 1933 a lift was placed in the south side of the building. A year later, an extension spanning 5 modules with services, offices and a reception room was added. The author of this extension was another of the Baťa architects, Vladimír Karfík. Since the 1950s, the building has undergone a range of modifications that have affected the operations inside the building, the interior elements and technologies. The biggest intervention was the replacement of the windows and the installation of a cladding made of corrugated aluminum sheets on the façade in 1971. Thus the original rhythm of gradually decreasing windows was lost. In fact, no authentic elements have been preserved except for the reinforced concrete structure.
In the autumn of 2018, the Department Store building underwent extensive renovation according to a design by architect Jaroslav Ševčík, which returned the façade to the original layout of windows and the original white colour of rendering. Commercial spaces are now concentrated on the first two floors, while on the upper floors there are offices. The hotel and wellness spa take up the top floors. The orientation of the escalators is now completely different; they are located in the middle of the building, opposite the main entrance, and they now only connect the ground floor to the first floor. The originally transparent glazing has been replaced with tinted float glass windows, and on the tenth floor there is a new glass superstructure.