Zipp – German-Czech Cultural Projects /


Life-worlds /

Utopia of Modernity: Zlín /

Kafka /

1968|1989 /

An initiative of the
Kulturstiftung des Bundes

Foto ©  Bas Princen, 2009

International Symposium A Utopia of Modernity : Zlín

19.05.2009 - 23.05.2009, Prague and Zlín

Today the Czech city of Zlín is two things at once: a historically important architectural monument and a dynamic city boasting an energetic social and commercial life, the location of the Tomáš Baťa University, where some 10,000 students are currently enrolled. Built by the Baťa shoe company in the 1920s as a factory city where living and working were to enter into a perfect symbiosis, Zlín possesses a rich architectural and intellectual heritage still very much in evidence today.

Zlín is a prime example of a planned city in which all aspects of life, namely domestic living, education, and leisure time, were geared towards a single goal - optimizing the efficiency of a rapidly expanding shoe company. This constitutes its current relevance for city planners and architects. Located in south-eastern Moravia, this modern planned city is unique in Europe. Following the model developed by Henry Ford, workers manufactured shoes on the assembly line, the success of the product soon turning the Baťa brand into a worldwide name.

The symposium featuring prominent international scholars and theorists pursued the question if Zlín is relevant for issues currently faced by city planners and architects and thus represents a learning model for the future. From a contemporary perspective Zlín is an irritating example, for it concords neither with the critical articulations of Postmodernism, nor with the certainties proclaimed by defenders of Modernity. The key issues discussed were the legacy of Fordism, post-socialist structural change, architectural branding and corporate identity - and last but by no means least, the place of social-utopian thinking in our present age.

These considerations were not pursued merely in abstract discussions, but intensified by impressions on the ground. The symposium was therefore not conceived as a self-enclosed event, but was augmented with Walks & Talks - thematically oriented walks through the city under the guidance of experts. These sojourns provided an opportunity to traverse the Baťa cosmos and show what the everyday life of current residents looks like in this monument of Modernity.
Film nights in the Grand Cinema presented historical advertising films, documentaries and productions by young graduates of Zlín’s film academies as well as “Bata-ville: We are not afraid of the future” by British artists Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope - the bittersweet record of an English coach trip to the origins of the Baťa shoe empire. A club night with concerts and VJing in the city’s former grain silo complemented the symposium program.

An event staged by Zipp – German-Czech Cultural Projects, an initiative of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, together with The Brno House of Arts, the Regional Gallery of Fine Arts in Zlín, and the National Gallery in Prague; in association with the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau – the Bauhaus College, the Thomas Baťa Foundation, the Tomáš Baťa University, the Zlín Film Studios, and the Zlín Shoe Museum. With the friendly support of the Region of Zlín and the District Authority of Zlín.

Programme | Photos | Video documentation | Publication | Project partners

Background texts

Bas Princen, Zlín 2009, Photographs
The historical black-and-white photographs, taken at regular intervals after the completion of various stages of construction, shaped the image of Zlín for some time. Many of them taken from an aerial perspective, the photographs captured the vibrant public life of the population: the shots show how, during their summer lunch breaks, workers poured out into the streets and squares on their way to sporting events and rallies. The Dutch photographer Bas Princen takes these photos as the starting material for a new photographic rendering of the city’s early iconography.
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Zlín – Modernity Fulfilled
By Regina Bittner

A whole city for a shoe factory. The entrepreneur Tomáš Baťa threw down the gauntlet to the leftist avant-garde with Zlín in Moravia. He had a giant laboratory for communal life and work built in the 1920s and 1930s. This “city of functionalism” was trimmed for efficiency right down to the very last detail. Everyone seemed to be equal, albeit not in the sense of an anti-capitalist utopia, but quite the contrary – equal in serving the Fordist assembly-line production. Regina Bittner explains the traditions upon which the ideal city was based and why today it should not be turned into a museum.
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