Jan Kotěra, 1923
Public transport: Poliklinika (TROL 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 11, 12, BUS 35, 38, 53, 70), Sportovní hala (TROL 2, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, BUS 31, 36, 90)
Since the 19th century, employee accommodation has served as one of the means by which the industrial companies in Europe and the United States improved the living standards of their employees, while ensuring their loyalty and quality work performance. The internationally active Baťa shoe business made a huge commitment to the development of corporate housing. In the interwar period they built over 2,000 houses for their employees in their home town of Zlín. The company excelled in extraordinary systematics, thanks to which it developed a sophisticated, strictly controlled process of construction and management of modern, economically affordable accommodation, exhibiting significant architectural and urban qualities.
The positive benefits of corporate accommodation, such as modern apartment equipment with bathrooms and hot water, low rents and gardens near the houses, were balanced by a very organised system of family life for workers. The Zlín production company had a clear intention to shape the lifestyle and behaviour of its employees.
The company's accommodation policy gradually formed from the first attempts before the First World War. These continued after overcoming the post-war crisis, when with a feverish increase in production and sharply rising numbers of employees in the first half of the 1920s, it was clear that a much faster pace would be needed. The company's attention focused on the first concentrated residential zone of Letná, situated south of the factory district, which consisted of family houses located in the surrounding greenery. The master plan was prepared between 1915 and 1918 by Jan Kotěra, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. His concept was closely followed by his pupil and subsequently one of the company's main architects, František Lýdie Gahura. The detached houses were supposed to balance the demanding work in the industrial environment and, in contrast to the large teams at the workplace, to offer appropriate privacy. Early examples of workers' accommodation, represented by fourplexes with a mansard roof on Kotěrova Street or plastered fourplexes of type A and B, still experimented with expressive forms as well as with layouts.
After the mid-1920s the company's construction department, founded in 1924, came up with a type of unplastered four-family house with four smaller housing units, which was already serially replicable. The reduced cost and speed of realisation of residential construction was crucial for the Baťa company. Gradually, it acquired the form of standardised simple two-storey houses with flat roofs of various sizes, with characteristic face bricks and the application of standardised architectural details, such as casement windows, stair railings, interior and exterior doors. At the same time, the construction department processed extensive swatches and construction statistics monitoring the price of individual items and the way in which individual elements could be used repeatedly.
The most common type of house for married employees of the company was duplex house intended for two families, which provided tenants with more living space. For employees holding more important positions in the company, single-family houses were reserved, offering high comfort of independent living, often with a garage, veranda or terrace. A special category was represented by individualised villas; in Letná they are embodied, for example, by a villa for the head of chemical production, Stanislav Landa, from 1939.
The corporate residential districts, led by Letná, were primarily planned as zones of peace and relaxation separated from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, too, they were, to a lesser extent, freely interspersed with additional services in the form of houses adapted for grocery stores, butchers and laundries. At the same time, local children could attend school facilities: pre-school education in a kindergarten in Na Vyhlídce Street, a large modern municipal school realised according to the project of Miroslav Lorenc in the years 1930–1932 on Mostní Street. Ground-floor garages with several parking spaces were available for motorised residents within the district. Bachelor houses for young unmarried employees in the position of officials, doctors or teachers also became part of the district, which evoked the nearby quarter-houses in terms of size and workmanship. Compared to dormitories intended for the youngest students, who shared rooms en masse for more than 10 people, they represented a significant increase in privacy and a major motivating factor to progress in one’s career.
Although residential construction in the 1920s and 1930s was dominated by carefully organised standardisation and typification, the company did not shy away from actively exploring other options and forms of accommodation. The imported model American wooden house Alladin was assembled in Letná in the years 1927–1928, but it remained alone in the district. The builder and journalist Berta Ženatý, who worked in the company press after returning from the United States, was, in addition to arranging the purchase of the above mentioned house, behind the design of a brick copy of his local wooden house on the edge of the Nad Ovčírnou zone. In the east, this zone followed on from Letná and provided the company's executives with privileged housing in comfortable single-family homes. Today, the Baťa Housing Infopoint operates in one of these houses.
During the 1930s, the Baťa company sought insistently how to avoid the monotony of standardised production and to improve the technical and layout shortcomings of early construction. In 1935, therefore, it announced an international housing competition. The star-studded jury of the competition selected several winners from the submitted projects, whose family houses were immediately made on the slope adjacent to the Nad Ovčírnou district (Benš – Jech, Vítek, Svedlund and Vladimír Karfík's own house). Further experiments with residential types and technologies subsequently took place, especially in the new Lesní čtvrť district.