František Lýdie Gahura (born 10th October 1891 in Zlin, died 15th September 1958 in Brno) was undoubtedly one of the leading figures of Zlin inter-war architecture and a close collaborator of Tomáš Baťa. He made a lasting impact on the appearance of Zlin and he was responsible for spreading the architecture typical for Baťa Company elsewhere in Czechoslovakia and around the world. Gahura was included in determining the character of Zlin’s inter-war Functionalist architecture and contributed to Baťa Company’s ‘industrial architecture.’ During and after his study at the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (1910–1917, Prof. J. Plečnik) and at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts (1919–1923, Prof. J. Kotěra), Gahura was employed in the construction office of the Baťa Company in Zlin, at the same time working as a freelance architect.
As the successor to J. Kotěra, he was involved in creating the first typified, massconstructed family homes with an optimised use of greenery, he created a low cost organic bond between nature and the factory and the surrounding buildings. Gahura’s first implemented design the Zlin Town Hall in 1920 which was a monumental building with jutting walled classical arches reveals the influence of Jan Kotěra, the German Jugendstil, and Czech Cubism. The architectural conception of the town hall influenced the first designs of the community centre for the Baťa Company employees as well as the designs for the town square – the library and museum (1934, 1943, designs unexecuted).
Gahura’s subsequent designs for Zlin derived from the industrial architecture of the developing factory complex. He took part in creating a concrete skeleton which columns had a span measuring 6.15 x 6.15 metres, originally meant for factory buildings, and used them in a series of other buildings. One of the first project as Baťa company architect was the construction of a hospital complex – the Baťa Hospital (1926-1936). The main part of the hospital was built at relatively little cost and equipped according to the latest medical knowledge. Between 1940 and 1942 Gahura worked on plans to reconstruct the hospital; between 1927 and 1928 he used his module in the Masaryk Experimental Schools, conceived in the shape of a book (1927-1928, demolished in 1988) and the Baťa Company department store Dům služby (Service House) which was one of the landmarks of Work Square. In the 1920s and ’30s, the company began building up a large network of its own shops which were built at relatively low cost. In 1928-1929 the first Baťa Service House was built in Wenclesas Square, Prague – J. Gočár, L. Kysela and Gahura created the characteristic design of the representative stores that followed. Another part of Work Square was the building of the Large Cinema (1931), which was intended to fulfil the role of a culture centre; it was later meant to be dismantled and transferred and eventually had 2,500 seats, becoming the largest cinema in the country. Undoubtedly the finest piece of Gahura’s work in architecture is the Tomáš Baťa Memorial built in 1933 commemorating Baťa’s tragic death in an air crash on the 12th December 1932.
The interior hall space was left totally free, the only accent was provided by single-flight stairs and above all by the installation of the aeroplane in which Baťa had tragically died. This building was greatly valued by a number of leading international architects, e.g. Le Corbusier. During the 1950s Gahura’s conception was obscured by extensive interior and exterior alterations, in recent years there has been an effort to return it to its original state. According to his Principal Plan from 1934, the town was built up and Gahura applied the concept of the garden city (after the model of the architects Sir E. Howard and T. Garnier). In 1947 he took part in creating the urban development plan, where he put his experience to use in building satellite factories and housing estates of the Baťa Company and other projects. In Gahura’s designs for Work Square dating from 1937 to 1941, he retained its basic cubic form, the buildings received light decoration and an attention was focused on the interiors as well. Gahura’s park avenue lined with school buildings and hostels symbolises the Baťa Company’s education system. Following the death of Tomáš Baťa, the avenue was completed in 1933 with the Tomáš Baťa Memorial with two buildings long its sides – Study Institute I (1936-1937) and II (1937). There were plans for a complex of five study institutes with an entrance through the Memorial. His executed designs include the chapel at Kudlov and the church in Míškovice.
Gahura originally began his studies in Prague to be a sculptor, but due to Baťa’s influence and the needs of Zlin he decided to study architecture – he applied his talent for example in designs for the theatre on Work Square or the entrance to the Forest Cemetery (1932-1935) or busts of Tomáš Baťa and Božena Němcová. Gahura was a member of several commissions, one of the main initiators of cultural events, a teacher and a promoter of Zlin in general. He also invited many figures of architecture to Zlin, including Le Corbusier, A. Perret, J. Víška and kept up extensive correspondence with many Czech artists, including Josef Čapek and E. Filla. He was a member of various art associations and won many awards for his work in architecture. He was involved in founding the Zlin School of Art, where he taught. After 1945, Gahura was meant to fall into oblivion. The massive anti-Baťa ideological pressure caused that everyone who had links to the company had to leave Zlin – including Gahura. His forced departure to Brno in 1947, the death of his son and daughter in 1934 left him unable to integrate himself with the different environment of Brno or identify himself with his new tasks – e.g. building the National Council. He died in obscurity on the 15th September 1958 and was buried under a simple gravestone together with his family at ‘his’ Forest Cemetery. Only recent studies brought an appraisal of the Zlin architecture and revealed the contribution made by this underrated architect.
To the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the Zlin Town Hall. Just like Baťa, Gahura, also came from a poor family and became a successful architect. The death of both his children and Baťa meant a personal tragedy – Baťa was an authority, a colleague and a friend. This exhibition at the House of Art, Zlin, Gahura’s former Tomáš Baťa Memorial, acquaints visitors with the work of this leading architect of inter-war Zlin through photographs, original plan documentation and models, Gahura’s texts, his personal correspondence supplemented with recollections by the architect’s son, Jan Gahura, and with written records by his wife Lýdie.