Fordism in Czechoslovakia: Baťa and the Postwar Building Industry
Iowa State University, Ames, USA
In 1919 Czech shoe entrepreneur Tomáš Baťa visited Ford's River Rouge Complex, then under construction, while on a tour of American industrial enterprises. The trip and his firsthand encounter with Fordism inspired an ambitious expansion plan for Zlín - Baťa's Moravian hometown and enterprise headquarters - that included new factory buildings, company-owned housing for his workers, and a new town complete with a modern department store, movie theater, and hotel. Baťa was soon known by the nickname, the "Czech Ford," connoting both his business practices and the paternalistic relationship between the company and its workers. As recent studies in Czech and English (by the author and others) have shown, Zlín and other Baťa company towns around the world are architecturally unique for their modern character, which developed from the standardized brick, glass, and concrete modules of the factory buildings, as well as widespread use of housing types and standardized construction.
This paper will expand upon this previous research to focus on the particular importance of the Fordist legacy to the architectural ideals of the Baťa Company. It will highlight the important role that Baťa architects played before, during, and after World War II in the Czechoslovak building industry and its shift towards mechanized and typified construction. Architects who had worked in the Baťa Building Department led efforts to nationalize and industrialize architectural practice after the rise of the Communist Party in 1948. Former Baťa architects also invented the first structural panel building in the Eastern Bloc and revolutionized Czechoslovakia's approach to mass housing, leading to the production of over 1,000,000 apartments in prefabricated buildings between 1950 and 1989. The paper will show how these transformations were deeply connected to Baťa's encounter with Fordism in Detroit even after the economic shift to communism.