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The Ringstrasse of the Proletariat

Saturday, 28.07.2018

Vienna has a large number of iconic buildings that emphasise different periods in the city’s history. The Karl-Marx-Hof represents the period that is referred to as ‘Rotes Wien’ or Red Vienna.

Karl-Marx-Hof

Karl-Marx-Hof

Der Sämann (The Sower) by Otto Hofner

Der Sämann (The Sower) by Otto Hofner

By 1919 Vienna became the only city in the western world that with a population of over one million inhabitants had a social democratic city council. This city council was faced with an acute housing crisis which prompted them to initiate a communal social experiment. This experiment was characterised by progressive policies on housing, welfare and education culminating in ‘Gemeindebauten’ or large- scale community housing. These were self- contained, densely populated estates that were dispersed throughout the growing metropolis. This was different to similar developments across Europe which took the shape of satellite settlements. The largest and most famous ‘Gemeindebau’ is the Karl-Marx-Hof designed by Karl Ehn and built in 1926-30. The building is 1 km long and has 1,382 apartments for around 5,500 residents. The facility included many amenities such as baths, laundries, kindergartens, hairdressers, doctors surgeries, shops and a library.

the semi-circluar gates

the semi-circluar gates

detail

detail

The strong symmetrical composition of the central part of the building enhances the grandness of the scheme. This symmetry is achieved by the four towers and two corner towers which include balconies and semi- circular gates that are reminiscent of a fortress. The towers are further defined by the salmon red colour set against the lighter yellow for the rest of the building. These towers do seems to echo a majestic picture of heroic industrial workers marching with their muscular arms linked.

The only element of decoration are the sculptures above the semi- circular arches.

These coloured ceramic figures were designed by Josef Franz Riedl and represent ‘Aufklärung’ (Enlightenment), ‘Befreiung’ (Liberation), ‘Kinderfürsorge’ (Child welfare) and ‘Körperkultur’ (Physical culture).

Josef Franz Riedl's 'Körperkultur'

Josef Franz Riedl’s ‘Körperkultur’

The communal living earned the building the name ‘The Ringstrasse of the Proletariat’ and became part of another chapter in Vienna’s history when fascists stormed the building in the 1934 uprising. Until this day the building has full occupancy.

Das Rote Wien im Waschsalon is a museum dedicated to the Karl-Marx-Hof and the new Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s; see http://dasrotewien-waschsalon.at. The museum is in the former Waschsalon or communal bathroom.

Waschsalon housing the museum 'Das Rote Wien- Waschsalon'

Waschsalon housing the museum ‘Das Rote Wien- Waschsalon’

‘De Stijl’ architecture

Tuesday, 07.03.2017

It was during a business trip that I went to the BOZAR (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten) in Brussels to see the exhibition ‘Theo van Doesburg: A New Expression of Life, Art and Technology’ (26 February – 29 May 2016); see www.bozar.be/en/activities/103881-theo-van-doesburg

Exhibition Poster showing Theo van Doesburg's Counter-Composition XIII (oil on canvas, 1925–26, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice)

Exhibition Poster showing Theo van Doesburg’s Counter-Composition XIII (oil on canvas, 1925–26, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice)

The exhibition was focused on a movement called ‘De Stijl’ which was founded by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in The Netherlands in 1917. Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings and Gerrit Rietveld’s ‘Red-Blue Chair’ are probably the most well known images of ‘De Stijl’ and have since become icons of twentieth century art. However, it was Theo van Doesburg who made this pioneering visual language not only appear in paintings such as his ‘Counter-Composition XIII’ but also in his buildings, furniture and interiors. In Weimar, he presented his new awareness of beauty to the Bauhaus architects.

In architecture, van Doesburg’s desire was to destroy the static aspect of a building. He wanted to replace the heaviness and confinement of walls with rhythmic and colourful animation. Van Doesburg created several architectural models together with Cornelis van Eesteren between the years 1923 and 1925. The most important aspect of this architecture is the asymmetry of volumes. This was achieved through creating axonometric views. These views show an object from a skew direction in order to reveal more than one side in the same picture. The asymmetry re-inforces the lightness and flexibility of the walls underlined by dynamic colours. This is superbly illustrated in the drawing for a ‘private house’ from 1923. An example that was actually built is Gerrit Rietveld’s  ‘Schröder house’ in Utrecht from 1924

Theo van Doesburg, Axonometric projection of a private house (Indian ink, gouache and collage on paper, 1923, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Axonometric projection of a private house (Indian ink, gouache and collage on paper, 1923, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Studio House, Meudon, 1930 (model from 1982, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Theo van Doesburg, Studio House, Meudon, 1930 (model from 1982, Nieuwe Instituut collection, Rotterdam)

Gerrit Rietveld, Schröder House, Utrecht, 1924 (model from 1987, Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Gerrit Rietveld, Schröder House, Utrecht, 1924 (model from 1987, Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Van Doesburg also designed the interior of the Aubette cafe, restaurant and dance hall in 1927-28. The artist wrote ‘The spatio-temporal painting of the twentieth century with its plastic and structuring possibilities, allows the artist to achieve the dream of placing man not in front of, but inside the painting itself.’

Theo van Doesburg, Interior of the Cine- Dancing of the Aubette, 1927-28, Strasbourg (reconstruction from 1968, VanAbbemuseum, Eindhoven)

Theo van Doesburg, Interior of the Cine- Dancing of the Aubette, 1927-28, Strasbourg (reconstruction from 1968, VanAbbemuseum, Eindhoven)

aubette2

The World of Charles and Ray Eames

Thursday, 08.09.2016

The exhibition  at the Barbican, London

The exhibition at the Barbican, London

My family and I went to see the exhibition ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’ (21 October 2015 – 14 February 2016) at the Barbican in London; see www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=18398

It was rather fun since my daughters Anya (age 9) and Lyra (age 7) were there too and they very much enjoyed all the colourful shapes of the exhibits.

Anya and Lyra looking at the model of 'the Revell Toy House' of 1969 (the toy never went  into production)

Anya and Lyra looking at the model of ‘the Revell Toy House’ of 1969 (the toy never went into production)

Prior to seeing the exhibition, I only knew of the classic Eames’ designs for such furniture as the ‘Lounge Chair und Ottoman’ of 1956 and the ‘Hang It All Coat Rack’ of 1953 of which I own an example bought from the VITRA company.

'Hang It All Coat Rack' of 1953

‘Hang It All Coat Rack’ of 1953

Coming from the architectural angle my attention was immediately drawn to the architectural models that were on display. The main model was of the Eames house which was part of a larger project known as the ‘Case Study Houses’ programme that numerous architects in Los Angeles participated in. This house was known as CSH No. 8 and was built in the Pacific Palisades from 1945-49.

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space and workshop)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space and workshop)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space)

The first design was a collaboration between Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. However during the development Eames was joined by his wife Ray and together they optimised the interior. The houses consists of two seperate rectangles divided into a ground and first floor. One rectangle functioned as a living space, the other as a workshop. The building consists of pre-fabricated industrial materials such as steel, glass, asbestos and modular cemesto plates, all of which, could be assembled on site.

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (living space)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (workshop)

Model of the Eames House built between 1945-49 (workshop)

The very hard edged right angles of the space, the Eames’ softenend with an interplay of colour and material that literally breathed life into the interior and exterior of the building. Although the house was a prototype for the CSH project, the Eames lived and worked in it from 1949 until their deaths. The co- existence of Life and Work under one roof was exactly the philosophy of these two famous designers.

 

The Villa Beer

Monday, 25.07.2016

The 13. Bezirk (district) called Hietzing is one of 23 Bezirke that make up Metropolitan Vienna. The 13. Bezirk is well known for Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs. The district also has the largest collections of villas built by Adolf Loos.

The villa that I found the most interesting was the Villa Beer not by Loos but by the younger architect Josef Frank (1885-1967) who was later in charge of the Viennese Werkbundausstellung of 1932.

The Villa Beer was built by Frank together with Oskar Wlach between the years 1929-1931. Situated in a quiet residential street the villa with its 800 sq. metres appears monumental.

The first thing one notices is the large occulous window above the entrance. Walking around the building, the asymmetrical facade is made up of numerous windows, doors, oriels, terraces and balconies. They are all of varying sizes placed on different levels all around the building.

the facade with the occulous window

the facade with the occulous window

the garden front

the garden front

various balconies on different levels

various balconies on different levels

Although the building is derelict and empty I was able to go inside. The Architekturzentrum Wien (see www.azw.at) organised an open day weekend on the 2. and 3. April, 2016.

The interior very much echoed the outside. There was a clear interaction, on different levels, of open staircases and hallways which allow for niche spaces as well as landings and lead to large salons. The large balconies and terraces connect the inside with the outside.

interior view showing various landings

interior view showing various landings

window looking out onto the garden

window looking out onto the garden

staircase to the upper floor

staircase to the upper floor

Josef Frank always believed that a house was to be a ‘Haus als Weg und Platz’ (house as a path and place). Therefore the inhabitants, just like in a city, walk from space to space with every space catering for certain moods that the occupant can live out.

At the time of writing the villa is seeking a new owner and is offered on the market for 5.3 Million Euros.

model of the garden front

model of the garden front

the occulous room

the occulous room

The City of Brno

Wednesday, 18.05.2016

City map of Brno showing Lipova Road

City map of Brno showing Lipova Road

Based in Vienna, I very quickly realized that it was not in the Austrian capital but in Brno, an hours drive away, in neighboring Czech Republic, that had the most buildings in the new ‘modernist’ style. Established in 1918, Czechoslovakia was a young country that strived towards a new identity within the realms of modernity. The economy was developed with fresh vigour and the nation’s new exhibition centre in Brno became a meeting place for industrialists worldwide. 

The exhibition centre itself is worth a visit but was closed when I first came to Brno. Luckily the villas that were built during this ‘Golden Age’ in the 1920s and 30s can be found across the entire city. A great example is, of course, the famous Villa Tugendhat  of 1928-30 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For the most comprehensive website on Brno’s ‘modernist’ architecture see www.bam.brno.cz.

This website lists nine areas to see the various types of ‘modernist’ buildings in Brno. I chose the Masaryk Quarter, situated west of the city centre, that points to 64 buildings of interest. The Masaryk Quarter had its beginning in the ‘English Garden city’ concept that consists of affordable housing in close connection to nature. These housing developments were often a collaboration between housing co-operatives and financial support given by the state. By 1925 the affordable housing was slowly added to by villas for more wealthy residents; mainly industrialists and businessmen. Although the economic crisis in 1929 put an end to state subsidies further development contnued for middle and upper class clientele in present day Lipová, Neumannova, Hroznová, Kalvodova and other streets.

I decided to concentrate on Lipová. This street offered plenty of examples to study and photograph. The villas seemed to all date to around the early to mid- 1930s and they all had the harmony and balance that I came to love in ‘modernist’ architecture.

Lipova no.1, Villa Pokorny, 1930-31 by Jindrich Compost (1891-1968)

Lipova no.1, Villa Pokorny, 1930-31 by Jindrich Kumpost (1891-1968)

his own house, 1934-35 by Eduard Zacek (1899-1973)

Lipova no. 17, the architect”s house, 1934-35 by Eduard Zacek (1899-1973)

behind Lipova no. 27 architect unknown

behind Lipova no. 27 architect unknown

Lipova no. 33, Seidl Apartment, 1936 by Otto Eisler (1893-1968)

Lipova no. 33, Seidl Apartment, 1936 by Otto Eisler (1893-1968)

Lipova no. 43, Villa Haase, 1929-30 by Arnost Wiesener (1890-1971)

Lipova no. 43, Villa Haase, 1929-30 by Arnost Wiesener (1890-1971)

Werkbundsiedlung Wien

Wednesday, 27.04.2016

I came across Vienna’s extraordinary history when I lived in the city from 2015-2016. As capital of the Austro- Hungarian Empire it became a centre of high culture and modernism at the turn of the last century. Also in architecture the city lead the way in developing a new language that was first touched upon by the now famous lecture ‘Ornament und Verbrechen’ (Ornament and Crime) given by Adolf Loos (1870 –1933) in 1910. Loos said ‘The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects’. As early as 1904, Loos was able to work on large-scale buildings such as the department store Goldman and Salatsch, today known as the ‘Loos Haus’. Although still using precious marble for part of the façade the exterior stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the buildings nearby, particularly the Hofburg Palace. The lack of stucco decoration gave the building by Loos the now famous name ‘House without Eyebrows’. Emperor Frans Joseph I of Austria hated the building so much that he took an alternative route when leaving the palace in order not to have to set eyes on it. 

The House without Eyebrows

The House without Eyebrows

Therefore, it was not surprising that the city of Vienna staged a Werkbundsiedlung exhibition, which opened in 1932. It was the Austrian architect Josef Frank (1885-1967) who took charge of the project and who also designed one of the houses. Frank invited a string of international architects such as Gerrit Rietveld, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Heinrich Kulka, Andre Lurcat, Ernst A. Plischke, Hugo Haering, Anton Brenner, Oswald Haerdtl and the architects Oskar Strnad, Walter Sobotka whose building where destroyed during the war. Two buildings by Hugo Haering were also destroyed.

The brief of the architects was not to show the latest technical advances in building materials but to design spaces that demonstrated the highest quality of living (maximaler Wohnkomfort) in a limited space. The buildings were to be single family home, modest in size and self sufficient (with a garden to grow vegetables). The project was about autonomous minimal living but in great comfort; meaning a space where one could relax after a hard day’s work. So the functionalism of the ‘Neues Bauen’ as shown in Stuttgart was not part of the brief. Indeed the Vienna Werkbundsiedlung stood in stark contrast to its German counterpart since Josef Frank was against the technical and industrial advances in construction, calling the buildings in Stuttgart as objective, practical and even attractive but devoid of the human touch.         

The 70 ‘Musterhäuser’ (sample houses) in Vienna were all furnished and were to be the role models for future building projects on the periphery of the city.

Please see the section ‘Werkbundsiedlung’ for the photographs of the buildings.

Art Deco features that are abandoned for the main facade

Art Deco features that are abandoned for the upper section of the facade

Modernist architecture in Bratislava

Wednesday, 09.03.2016

From Vienna, I made the shortest trip in Europe between two capital cities. It is an hour’s drive along the Danube River going east towards the Slovakian border. At the border, Bratislava (in German: Pressburg; in Hungarian: Pozsony) already appears in the distance with the city’s castle clearly visible.

My visit was prompted by the entitled Bratislava Pressburg Pozsony, Jewish Secular Endeavors (1867-1938) by A. Robert Neurath, published in 2011. The first chapter covers modernist architecture in the Jewish community. This community thrived in the city since the legal emancipation of Jews came into effect in 1867 when the Habsburg Empire changed into the Dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and ended with the Second World War.

The two architects Emil Alojz Brüll (1895-1944/45) and Emerich Spitzer (1904-1943) built villas across the city which I wanted to see in person.

The first was Brüll’s villa for Dr. Ellek, on Bartonova 2, from 1933/34. The building consists of a rectangle with two half-cylinders attached. One of the half-cylinders is of lower height accommodating a balcony. The forms in the round I found particularly pleasing to the eye and did not recall a similar house I have seen in the past. Just a few minutes’ walk took me to Partizanska 3 where I saw Spitzer’s Dr. Kornel Pollak’s house of 1931. The facade is very functionalist with a flat roof functioning as a terrace and a prominent chimney. The garden side (to which I had no access) shows rounded corners which are (from old photos) most impressive. The third property on Na Brezinach 8, which is in another part of town was also designed by Spitzer for Eugene Pollak in 1933. Here the rounded corners are particularly prominent and are continuously used; again with a prominent chimney.

Driving back to Vienna the use of semi-cylinders and rounded edges in these villas stayed most in my mind. I wondered if this was a typical features of modernist architecture in Bratislava.

Villa for Dr Ellek, 1933/34

Dr Ellek’s Villa, 1933/34

Villa for Dr Ellek, 1933/34

Dr Ellek’s Villa, 1933/34

 

Me in front of Dr Kornel Pollak's house

Me in front of Dr Kornel Pollak’s house

Dr Kornel Pollak's house, 1931

Dr Kornel Pollak’s house, 1931

 

Eugene Pollak's house, 1933

Eugene Pollak’s house, 1933

Eugene Pollak's house, 1933

Eugene Pollak’s house, 1933

 

 

 

Neues Frankfurt

Wednesday, 03.02.2016

The week before last I was in Frankfurt on a valuation day at the ‘Frankfurter Hof’ hotel. In-between clients that wanted valuations of their Old Master paintings I was confronted with a window  of two hours with no appointments. I took the chance and a taxi drove me to a northern suburb of Frankfurt called the ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’. The driver dropped me off at the ‘Ernst-May-Haus’ which functions as a museum and headquarters of the ‘Ernst-May-Gesellschaft’. It was this ‘society’ that returned the house back to its original state of the 1920’s; (see www.ernst-may-gesellschaft.de).

Ernst May (1886-1970) was the chief town planner of the ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’ that he conceived and built between 1925 and 1929. The main architect was Carl-Hermann Rudolff (1890-1949) who together with May built 1220 living units. Amongst others, the units consisted of 581 ‘one family homes’ and 602 flats in apartment blocks. For this new suburban settlement many public services were built like schools (see the ‘Geschwister-Scholl-Schule’) and shops (see the ‘Rundbau’ building). Such a suburban settlement also benefited from the nearby big city with direct transport links.

The architecture for this project was developed independently of the very innovative ‘Bauhaus’ but similarities were abundant. Both show a formal reduction resulting in an elemental geometry, truth to materials, standardisation and an all encompassing approach similar to the notion of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. Specifically a flat roof, white walls and cubical forms with a asymmetrical facades was the norm. New materials such as reinforced concrete was used and could be mass produced in factories at low cost and then assembled on site. It was fast, efficient, economical and democratic since many houses were of the same design. All dwellings were fitted with central heating, bathrooms and electricity. Since space was limited the first built-in kitchen was designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1927 and most dwellings were fitted with it. This kitchen, known as the ‘Frankfurter Küche’, took into consideration work habits in a space of seven square metres. Some 10,000 units were built in the late 1920s.

The ‘Siedlung Römerstadt’ and many similar projects across the city were referred to as the ‘Neues Frankfurt’.

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Ernst-May-Haus, 1925-1929ReihenhauserGeschwister-Scholl-SchuleRundbauGeschaftFrankfurter Küche, 1927

The Kibbutz En Gedi

Friday, 08.01.2016

IMG_1422

The Kibbutz Gymnasium

I was very excited to go to Israel in October 2015 not because of Jerusalem being the centre of three world religions but because of Tel Aviv and the Bauhaus.

Before taking on the city, I went to En Bokek to enjoy the waters of the Dead Sea. Near En Bokek is En Gedi, a Kibbutz. This Kibbutz took me by surprise. The architecture is heavily indebted to the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier.

The Kibbutz at En Gedi was established in 1956 and today has about 500 members and residents. It began as a farming community that, as so many other Kibbutzim, exemplified the socialist-zionist movement. This movement was popular when Israel established itself as a nation state.

Due to the rise of Hitler in 1933 many jewish architects of german extraction emigrated to Israel. Some of these architects had attended the Bauhaus School and others were under the influence of Le Corbusier and generally ‘The International Style’. The social cultural ideology of the ‘Bauhaus’ that had no past and only looked forwards was very suited to a new country that was to become Israel.

Kibbutz Administrative Building

The administrative buildings at the En Gedi Kibbutz show strong Corbusian influence with the use of ‘Pilotis’ which elevates the building above the ground. This creates an additional space and more harmony with the building’s surroundings. The ‘Pilotis’ are also part of a grid of reinforced concrete colimns that bears the structural load. Without the restraints of the structural load, the architect was able to configure the interior and exterior (the facade) as he wished. The Corbusian use of a horizontal band of windows is also evident.

IMG_1371

Kibbutz Administrative building

For the residences of the members of the Kibbutz, the Bauhaus and its architectural concepts shown in the ‘Neues Bauen’ is evident. The introduction of reinforced concrete suited the rational design of these houses. Prominence was again given to ‘open spaces’ as exemplified by the use of the flat roof terrace and the external staircase. These open spaces are very conducive to the climate in the Middle East, however, the typical use of large amounts of glass that so typifies the ‘Bauhaus’ and in general the ‘International style’ was avoided (except for the gymnasium). In place smaller windows were opted for to keep the interiors cool and comfortable.

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Kibbutz Residence

IMG_1399

Kibbutz Residence

The Bata city Zlin

Monday, 16.11.2015

I went to see the fabulous ‘Le Corbusier- Kunst und Architektur’ exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. It ran from the 9 July – 5 October 2009.

One section was devoted to the city of Zlin in Morovia, the Czech Republic. This was where Tomas Bata founded his shoe manufacturing plant in 1894. It was not long before the whole city was working for him and after WWI Baťa went about building a whole new city along ‘modernist’ lines. A type utopian vision for a Bata city was realised where every type of institution (hospital, schools, stores, community centre, sports club, dwellings, cinema etc.) was owned by the company; see
http://www.baunetz.de/meldungen/Meldungen-BAUNETZWOCHE

To reflect industrial production, every building in the city centre took ‘the factory building’ as its role model. A square unit measuring 6,15 x 6,15 metres was used as a basis for a living space. This unit was then assembled or collected together to make up a building. This approach shows the influence of Le Corbusier ‘s revolutionary idea of the ‘Unité d’Habitation’ or ‘Living Machine’ consisting of living units that are standardised and could be mass produced. Frantisek Lydie Gahura was a pupil of Le Corbusier and Bata’s urban planner and must have seen his teacher’s ‘Pavilion de l’Esprit’ in Paris in 1925. This pavilion was the forerunner of the later ‘Unité d’Habitation’.

I went to Zlin in the Summer of 2015. It is another hours drive from Brünn. Some buildings such as the Bata headquarters building have since been refurbished. The aforementioned assembled units make for beautiful horizontal and vertical lines that are a pleasure to photograph. Especially the extensive use of glass for the stairwells attached to the side of the buildings make for very elegant structures.

The ‘Memorial Pavilion for Tomas Bata’ that was a type of museum to show the achievements of Bata has since fallen into disrepair. Old photos show a building with reinforced concrete pillars that otherwise is made completely of glass. A very inspiring building that I wish I could have seen when first built.

Damian Brenninkmeyer at the Bata Community Centre (now Hotel Moskva)

Me in front of the Bata Community Centre (now Hotel Moskva), 1931-32 by the architects Vladimír Karfík and Miroslav Lorenc

 

Baťa Community Centre (now Hotel Moskva), 1931-32

Bata Community Centre (now Hotel Moskva), 1931-32 by Vladimir Karfík and Miroslav Lorenc

 

 Headquarters of the Bata Company

Headquarters of the Bata Company (now regional and financial headquarters), 1938 by Vladimír Karfík

 

 OBCHODNI DUM, Bata department store, 1932

OBCHODNI DUM, Baťa department store, 1932 by Frantisek Lydie Gahura

 

DUM UMENI, Memorial Pavilion for Tomas Bata, 1932-33

DUM UMENI, Memorial Pavilion for Tomas Bata, 1932-33 by Frantisek Lydie Gahura

 

DUM UMENI, Memorial Pavilion for Tomas Bata, 1932-33

DUM UMENI, Memorial Pavilion for Tomas Bata, 1932-33 by architect Frantisek Lydie Gahura

 

Stairwell in the Bata Community Centre

Stairwell in the Bata Community Centre