Social House

Date 1931–1933
Code Z14
Address náměstí Práce 2512, Zlín
Public transport Public transport: náměstí Práce (TROL 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, BUS 38)
GPS 49.2211194N, 17.6612339E

During the 1920s and especially in the 1930s, the Baťa company began to focus its attention on the comfort of its employees outside their working life in accordance with the principles of welfare capitalism. During overseas travel, the company's management was inspired by the system of operation in American industrial companies and their experiences were also applied in Zlín. The intention was to provide workers with a meaningful range of leisure activities, through which the company also educated and directed them towards a modern urban way of life. These efforts were concentrated in the area of ​​the newly emerging náměstí Práce (Labour Square) in the immediate vicinity of the factory complex. This, first freely developed place, gradually gained more coherent form according to the master plan of František Lýdie Gahura as the commercial and social centre of the industrial city and was supposed to replace the historical Masarykovo náměstí (Masaryk Square) - today náměstí Míru.
In 1931, the first design for an eleven-storey hotel combined with social functions was created. The house, which was almost in line with the entrance to the factory, closed the southern elevated side of the Labour Square. Its author, Miroslav Lorenc, at that time an employee of the Construction Department of the company, had completed his studies at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts and had gained experience working with avant-garde architects Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, and Jaroslav Krejcar. The structure and constructivist form of the Zlín Social House - a skeleton frame filled with light ribbon windows, awnings, and advertising signs on the facade, reflected contemporary city palaces and department stores, such as Krejcar's Olympic Palace in Prague.
Soon, however, architect Lorenc left the company due to disagreements on the financing of the neighbouring Big Cinema project, and he established his own practice. The building under construction remained as a torso, an empty skeleton in the city centre. Tomáš Baťa commissioned the design of the sample hotel rooms to two company architects, intending to choose the next hotel designer based on the result. František L. Gahura opted for a more frugal option of collective accommodation with shared hygienic facilities in the hallway. Vladimír Karfík conceived of the hotel room as a luxurious American-style relaxation space equipped with furniture made of bent chrome-plated steel tubes, a telephone, and especially a separate bathroom. According to his book of memoirs, this helped him to win the contract and to gain the favour of the management of the company, who wanted to achieve the unique atmosphere of metropolitan hotels known from abroad with exceptional living comfort and additional services.
Karfík used Lorenc's skeleton as the basis of his functionalist concept, formally more adapted to the company's architectural aesthetics and building rules, and the hotel was built in subsequent stages. The modular units on the ground and first floors were completely filled with continuous glazing in iron frames, which together with the massive marquee, marked the entrance and social facilities. The social facilities, which included large-scale economy canteens as well as grand French restaurants, halls with table tennis and billiard tables, a hairdressers, a café with a dance floor, a cafeteria and lecture and theatre hall, were supposed to create an "environment that can only be found in international businesses." In addition to the hotel management offices and staff bedrooms, there were 300 comfortably-furnished hotel rooms of various sizes for approximately 700 guests.
The exterior composition consisted of typical face brick infill, broken by a pair of smaller sliding American style windows in wooden frames, one per module. Karfík made the last, eleventh, floor feel lighter by creating a generous, freely-accessible observation deck with a covered dance floor. The hotel layout was conceived as a standard Zlín layout with central corridor and rooms on both sides. The central hallway was illuminated by rectangular windows on the narrower west and east façades. Another source of light were the windows by the u-shaped staircase in the centre of the building, which, together with the passenger lifts, connected all floors. The rhythmic grid of the façade, achieved by the long vertically-acknowledged reinforced concrete pillars and horizontal strips of infill, made a prominent geometrical pattern on the façade of the central high-rise building at náměstí Práce and made it a distinctive landmark in the city.
Unfortunately, the Social House, renamed Hotel Moskva after February 1948, has undergone a number of major adjustments during the post-war decades that have badly affected its original appearance. Between 1987 and 1989, on the eastern and western sides, two large glazed towers of fire escape were added with the permission of the architect. The open terrace on the top floor was covered and adapted to house maisonette flats in the 1990s. Both changes, together with the conglomeration of later outbuildings on the south side of the hotel and the replacement of the original large-format window frames on the first two floors, undermined the former lightweight appearance of the hotel building. A large part of the representative interiors, especially in the publicly-accessible social floors (but also in the accommodation areas), were completely destroyed in several waves of poor quality alterations.
The building is not individually listed, although attempts to declare it so were made in the mid-1990s. The main reason for the rejection was the poorly-preserved original state. The hotel became part of the urban conservation area and the possibilities of new adjustments are relatively limited. The building still awaits its dignified renovation, ideally through an architectural competition.