The First Truly Contemporary Functionalist Office Building in Ljubljana

Relatively little has been written on the palace that completed the pre-war renovation of Ljubljana city centre. Therefore, we wish to shed some more light upon its emergence.

Following the great economic crisis (the Great Depression) in the interwar period, the economy started to strengthen in the 1930s. This was the time when a modern city centre began to emerge on the present-day Slovenska Street in Ljubljana, and Bata Palace had an important role in its development. In many aspects it was the first truly contemporary office building in Ljubljana, distinguished by the minimalist functionalist architecture.

After World War I, Bata started opening stores in the then Yugoslavia, which at the time was a poorly developed agricultural country where many people did not even wear proper shoes. In the atmosphere of Slavophilism after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary the word of Tomaš Bata and his modern approaches towards manufacturing shoes travelled fast. So, it is not surprising that during the international All-Sokol Rally (Sokol Slet) in Prague in the summer of 1926, a few delegations visited the town of Zlin and took a tour of the Bata Shoe Company. Amongst the members of delegations there was also a former mayor of Ljubljana and the first Yugoslav ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Ivan Hribar. Everyone reported on a friendly reception, and the Yugoslavs who worked in Zlin and showed them around the factory. In 1930 there was an All-Sokol Rally in Belgrade, and the Sokols who were Bata employees in Zlin came on a special train on which they also slept. They visited Maribor, Zagreb, Belgrade and, eventually, Split, where they spent a week on the coast. Tomaš Bata followed them in his own private plane and also stopped in Ljubljana on 25 June 1930.

The initial approval and affection for Bata, however, soon evaporated. Local shoemakers, small factory owners and shoe sellers were not able to compete with Bata. They thus perceived the company as a threat to their survival, and from all over Yugoslavia joined forces within the Chamber of Commerce, Crafts and Industry and launched protest activities. The government introduced customs duties on imported shoes, and Bata responded to that with the intention to build a factory in Yugoslavia and thus avoid the tax on imports. From 1930 onwards, Bata’s agents were looking for an appropriate location for a factory in Yugoslavia, a move that was again accompanied by protests and the reluctance of local authorities to give their approval. Both the government and Royal Family supported foreign investment in the country, as they saw it as an opportunity for faster development, and Bata was the company that was prepared to invest the largest amount of capital. Eventually, the firm bought land from the Orthodox Church in Borovo, a small village near Vukovar in Croatia, and began setting up a factory there in the summer of 1931. In October 1933, Tomaš Jan Bata, the son of the by then deceased founder of the company, announced in Zagreb that they also planned to set up not only a factory but a town for workers as well.

Bata Palace, Ljubljana Photo: Andrej Hrausky

Bata Palace, Ljubljana
Photo: Andrej Hrausky

The complete article is published in Autumn 2020 issue of Piranesi No. 42-43/Vol. 28.

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