Electric Houses

Date 1939–1941
Architect Miroslav Lorenc
Code Z6
Address Lorencova 3345, 3346, Zlín
Public transport Public transport: Lešetín I (BUS 38)
GPS 49.2270553N, 17.6729692E
49.2260394N, 17.6730269E
In Zlín in the 1930s, a purely residential multi-storey apartment building was a typology that, in contrast to other larger cities in the country, appeared to a very limited extent. The accommodation policy of the Baťa company, which at that time stimulated the development of the city for the most part, focused on individual company houses for married employees and boarding houses and dormitories for younger unmarried workers. Although non-Baťa business owners operating mainly in the area around the original historic centre usually preferred a multi-storey tenement houses, they mostly supplemented it with representative business spaces on the ground floor.
The pair of six-storey buildings which sprung up on municipal land on the eastern edge of the centre in 1939–1941, thus deviated from the Zlín standard of the time. The buildings, referred to as the Electric Houses, represented a valuable contribution to the category of modern metropolitan housing, and at the beginning of World War II they were an indication of where residential construction in Zlín might go after 1945.
The project of the Electric houses, intended for a growing number of officials, was prepared for the city by the architect Miroslav Lorenc. Its well-thought-out concept and pure functionalist aesthetics referenced contemporary progressive examples of rental housing in Prague and Brno, where the architect studied and gained his first internship in the studios of architects Jaromír Krejcar and Josef Gočár. Lorenc worked for Baťa at the beginning of his work in Zlín, but after a few months and several company contracts he left due to disagreements regarding the financing of the construction of the Big Cinema and in 1931 he established his own very successful practice.
In 1939, when the project of electric houses was created, he had already had excellent independent realisations, such as the house of Eduard Pelčák and Malota's confectionery. He did not see the Electric houses completed in 1941, however. As the district commander of Obrana národa (Nation's Defence), he took an active part in the resistance, for which he was arrested in 1940 and executed three years later in Wroclaw. The Electric houses were one of his last projects.
After 1936, when the Construction Act defining state financial support for housing for the poor came into force, the construction of small flats concentrated in residential blocks intensified throughout the country. Although Zlín Electric, i.e. fully electrified, houses used the same architectural form, they offered spacious apartments equipped above normal standards, providing the city staff with maximum comfort, hygiene, and contact with the surrounding greenery.
The architect placed both houses sensitively in the sloping park terrain bordered by today's Lorencova Street (later named after the author), Kvítková Street, and Tomáš Baťa Avenue. Lorenc installed massive residential blocks, laid out in a U-shaped floor plan, in the corner of the streets. Generous passages to the landscaped courtyard are located in the middle of their layouts towards Lorencova Street. The rhythm of the facades is determined by the axes of the two to four-part windows leading to the living rooms in combination with a pair of small square windows for the bathrooms. A distinctive vertical accent is provided by the uniform glazed strips providing light to the U-shaped staircases. A similar element was used by Lorenc shortly before in 1937 at a nearby convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. From the surface of ​​smooth, sober and undecorated facades of the Electric Houses, small and light balconies stand out playfully, always connecting two flats, and loggias in the inner corners of the courtyard tracts. For both residential blocks, the architect chose the technology of load-bearing brick walls supported in some parts by reinforced concrete pillars; the ceilings and stairs were made of reinforced concrete. Each of the houses had over 60 mostly one- and two-room apartments, two or three on each floor at each entrance. Although the apartments had different layouts depending on which part of the block they were located, they all had in common ample amount of daylight thanks to both sufficient window area and interior painting in soft tones combined with white tiles in the kitchens.
The apartments consisted of an entrance hall, one or two rooms with wooden floors (somewhere in the form of beech square parquet floors), a smaller kitchen with a pantry, and bathrooms. Living in the Electric Houses offered tenants the convenience of full electrification (electric oven in the kitchen, electric water tanks in the bathrooms), as well as central heating provided from the boiler room in the basement. In addition, the housing units were supplemented by a number of modern utilities, such as telephones with electric signalling letting visitors into the house, outlets for the state telephone, antenna sockets for listening to the radio, and drop-offs in the corridors. In the basement of both houses there were cellars divided from each other by slatted partitions, open terraces on the top floor, laundries, and drying rooms. These were later converted into other apartments. The basic courtyard and the volume of both buildings are well preserved to this day. Likewise, many authentic architectural details, such as the fragile wiring of the balconies, the flagpoles in the corners of the facades, the terrazzo floors in the corridors, and the rounded stair railings with wooden handrails, still show the quality of Lorenc's solution.
In the post-revolutionary period, however, a number of partial adjustments were made, which disrupted the original purity of the expression (replacement of part of the casement wooden windows with a ventilation flap made of plastic, insulation in bright pastel colours, and a new horizontal colour scheme at house No. 3345 contradicting the original verticality). Nevertheless, even 80 years after their creation, Lorenc's Electric Houses remain excellent examples of exceptionally high-quality urban housing, still retaining their former advantages.