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Czech Modernism

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1908, Vsehrdy, Czech Republic

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Czech Republic

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Article last edited by Lacuna on
April 17th, 2014

Miroslav Drofa Change this

Change thisCzech Republic
born 1908, Vsehrdy
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Architect Miroslav Drofa was born in Vsehrdy near Plzen into a family of head teacher. He grew up together with two sisters and another brother as the youngest among them.

After that he graduated from the Construction College in Plzen in 1928 he embraced the offer to start his career at an age of twenty in the construction department of the renowned shoe factory Bata in the town of Zlin. The company prospered and developed rapidly together with the local regions in the vicinity of the town. When he started his professional career in the position of a construction technician and cost consultant in 1928, he could not anticipate at that time what opportunities open up for him with Bata Company and pre-war Zlin. This was not only a considerable quantity of work resulting from the needs of Bata Group expanding rapidly from Zlin to other towns in Czechoslovakia of that time and abroad, but also construction of buildings for related public and housing sectors. However, Bata offered to Drofa the most valuable thing that a young man can be given at the very beginning of his professional career. He enabled him to get in close working relationships with his colleagues, who were also later known as renowned architects such as Frantisek Lydie Gahura, Vladimir Karfik and Jiri Vozenilek.

Together with them Drofa became an author using a distinct style, functionalism that had been so much typical for the town of Zlin. The architecture and construction methods applied in Zlin during the first half of the 20th century were a phenomenon that had no parallel in the pre-war Czechoslovakia and all Europe. By the way, similar examples that would stand comparison herewith can be found only rarely on a worldwide scale. It was just Zlin, where the dreams and visions of the whole generation of functionalists of that time were turned into reality, not by construction of a single or several buildings, but immediately of the whole town! Zlin had become the third significant centre of the Czechoslovak modern architecture besides Prague and Brno since the mid thirties. New types of houses were designed in the thirties as a response to the uniformity and world trends in the housing sector. Special recognition among them was given to the designs by František Lydie Gahura, V.Karfik as well as Miroslav Drofa, who knew well from his previous professional experience, what a crucial aspect the building cost could be for each client and how much such aspect could be influenced positively or adversely by the architect and his team. He used to say: "What could cost 100,000 crowns that was not allowed to cost 101,000 crowns." Therefore he always combined simple solutions for structural systems and building layout with sophisticated functional purpose-oriented design in his work. The building cost was thus reduced, yet the dwelling standard in his houses was even higher. In 1937, architect Drofa created his first design of a standardised detached house with garage. The building is unique for its perfect balance of masses. In 1940, when the Bata company management decided to build 400 private detached and semidetached houses for their employees in the shortest possible time, another Drofa's design of the dwelling house was one of the third winners. A town district called Zadni Dily developed between 1940 and 1941 in Zlin. The architects V. Kubecka, F. Musil, H. Adamec and A. Florian also took an active role in further expansion of the town.

Architect Drofa was entrusted with managing the design and construction department of the Bata Company in Zruc nad Sazavou at that time. The planned town expansion enabled him to participate together with architect Karfik in planning a new Bata factory, school, community centre and residential quarter for the employees. The new town thus received similar zoning like Zlin, i.e. production zone, public services and school zone, and residential zone. In 1942 Drofa was called back to Zlin to become a head of the housing construction department. As a sideline to his own work, he elaborated designs for further Bata´s satellites such as town districts in Otrokovice Baťov, Napajedla, and the Slovak town Batovany (today's Partizanske).

In the post-war period between 1945 and 1948, Bata Company moved its base to Canada. Some Drofa´s colleagues went overseas forever after the end of WWII. He stayed in touch with them mainly in writing till the end of his life. Josef Polasek, his friend of long standing had been sending him professional journals from the USA for many years. The journals specialised in architecture and building sector were of an inestimable value for his further professional growth during the period when socialism was sealed off from the civilised world.

In 1945, immediately after World War II, the construction department of Bata Company was transformed into a succession company called Stavosvit, and seven years later, in 1952, into Centroplans.

Miroslav Drofa was a renowned and reputable architect yet during the pre-war period, therefore when the war was over he was given numerous opportunities together with his colleagues V. Kubecka, T. Slezak, A. Vitek, J. Vozenilek and others to engage himself in restoration of factory buildings and town structures destroyed by bombing , as well as in new housing construction. Among other works created on his drawing board, there were also designs of two eight-storeyed corridor type houses "Morysovy" and five apartment towers. They are still a dominant of the Tomas Bata Street.

"Morysovy" houses, built in 1947 are characterised by offering a high dwelling standard for that time. There were a restaurant, day nursery, kindergarten, caretaker´s lodge and maid´s rooms housed-in. Each apartment had a built-in wooden kitchen unit and wardrobes. Wall tiling in the bathrooms was a commonly found thing. The house residents used a passenger lift, rubbish chute, laundry and mangle room. These functionally perfect houses heated by centralised municipal heating system were the first buildings in Czechoslovakia, which used the elements of collective housing. The most typical architectural feature of the houses was balcony made of perforated reinforced-concrete precast elements. The balconies were projected from the facade and partly recessed at their end sections. This element became a unifying feature of all high-rise apartment houses that were built in Zlin between 1945 and 1950.

Apartment towers inspired by architect Drofa´s journey to Sweden were built between 1947 and 1950. It was for the first time when a load-bearing brick structure was used for such a building height in Zlin. Five apartment towers put the final appearance to the townscape. The towers together with the "Morysovy" houses were incorporated in surrounding landscape and urban areas in a very sensitive manner. A new vertical backbone line and composition axis of this town area was constituted in that way.

As for construction of industrial buildings, Drofa preferred not only a general conceptual scheme of the new plant and symbiosis with its surroundings, but he always required himself and his colleagues to achieve the most effective process and material flows through the facility, optimised configuration of both production and auxiliary areas, and a human-acceptable working environment. He designed buildings for different branches of industries requiring, prior to commencement of the design work, a proper studying of the essentials and principles of each specific production process, understanding of the logic of relationships among individual production units, classifying of their functional links in a hierarchy according to importance in the general context of the work. The outstanding feature of the industrial buildings designed by him was their high level of universality and flexibility. Drofa was aware of the fact that the manufacturing processes tend towards continual production, automation and robotization of processes. It was his intention to give the designers of such production concepts of tomorrow maximum freedom and space for transforming their ideas into practice in future.

Fate had brought to architect Drofa a great chance to influence strongly the development of construction and architecture, not only in the town of Zlin. He fully used the chance given to him. Although his architectural works had been born under economic or ideological pressure for almost all his life such circumstances never forced him to abandon his principles, distinctive style and his view of architecture and its further development. Maybe these were also the aspects that helped him to create a well balanced and compact life work. Such finding is all the more valuable because he was a versatile designer as it can be seen from the survey of his work. He is an author of more than a hundred of complexes and buildings, which attract attention by their simplicity, purposefulness and idea that remains consistent up to sophisticated details.

Splendid or so called „big" architecture that serves the purpose of personal presentation and "immortality" of the author had no place in his conception. In spite of the aforesaid, he became one of the few authors, whose houses were and still are called by his name fully spontaneously and without any official declarations up to the present time. He remained utterly indifferent to any personal fame and success. A humble attitude towards nature, temperance in enjoying pleasures of life, kind attitude towards people and deep knowledge of classical art had reflected in an outstanding artistic conduct of details and purposefulness of his work while using utmost simplicity and moderate means of expression. He was honorary member of the Czechoslovak Association of Architects.

Architect Drofa was laid to rest in Lesni cementery in Zlin.

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