What is the full form of BATA

Work collectively - live individually

The shoe manufacturer Bata built entire factory towns in the 1930s. The Swiss Architecture Museum Basel is now shedding light on the architecture and housing development of three Bata systems.

A “Batajaner” is neither an extraterrestrial nor a computer virus. Batajaner was the name given to the employees of the shoe company founded by Tomáš Bat'a in Zlín, Moravia in 1894, to which employees felt loyal to their entire working life. From the perspective of today's corporate strategies and the demands for free, flexible employees, such an “eternal” loyalty to the company seems to have lost its foundation. In fact, the Batajans are a species that is becoming extinct. Your work ethic leads back to another time in the relationship between the company and the workforce. The social binding agent was a long-term care of the company, which found expression in Bata factory towns with company-owned workers' colonies and leisure facilities and kept trade unions away. The modern, functionally structured Bata city of Zlín, planned during the First World War, became the model for around eighty factory towns that lined the shoe manufacturer's path to success around the world.

Bata colonies in comparison

In 1932, a Bata shoe factory with a workers' settlement in the countryside was built in Möhlin near Basel. The Swiss Architecture Museum (SAM) in Basel documented the settlement in 1992 - two years after shoe production ceased there. Now the SAM is showing an exhibition taken over by the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, which compares the development and change in the Bata factory towns of Möhlin, East Tilbury near London and Batanagar in India, looking at the specific characteristics of these company towns, which are the same and yet were different, researches. The Bata system was used in the construction of factories and houses in all three factory towns. The basic unit of the reinforced concrete skeleton of the flat roof factories consisted of a 6.15 by 6.15 meter grid. The brick-walled houses of the workers' colonies were arranged in a checkerboard pattern and planted according to the model of the modern garden cities.

The layout of the SAM show underlines in a visually appealing way that the basic grid for the company architecture was valid regardless of location and thus established a consistent corporate identity for the company that was rising to become a global corporation. This does not mean, however, that the types of residential buildings in the factory estates were modernist prefabricated house boxes. For example, they were built as two-storey cross row houses for four families and as twin houses and embodied the motto “work collectively - live individually”. Compared to modern, multi-storey apartment blocks, the Bata residential buildings actually offered the employees the privilege of living individually - and this despite the standardization of design and living space. Local color and topography also colored the design of the settlements. The Möhlin workers' colony appears to be the most similar settlement to the Zlín mother settlement.

A Batajaner worked in the Bata factory, lived in a company-owned settlement attached to the factory and relaxed in the leisure facilities belonging to the colony, such as a cinema, park, swimming pool, soccer field or kitchen garden. “Bata is everything!” Says Sharbanidas Gupka about his experiences in the Indian company town of Batanagar and sounds satisfied. Union representatives would argue against this: workers' colonies that look like social reforms and are equipped with modern comforts were part of the strategy of the company owner to extend the sphere of power to every area of ​​life.

Former residents of the East Tilbury settlement tell in the exhibition that it was considered lucky to be part of the Bata community, which at peak times had 3,000 employees here. The settlement at the mouth of the Thames was a "happy place to live", they say, people valued the living atmosphere, security and social ties. Today, of course, the number of production facilities and Bata employees is steadily decreasing. After East Tilbury had to close in 2005, the factory town that was built in 1932 is a "sad place". Although the settlement was included in the large-scale development project of the “Thames Gateway”, it is uncertain in what form the conversion will take place.

The listed Bata colony Möhlin has had a new owner since 2005. As the exhibition documents, there was heated debate about the preservation of the substance and further development. The plan is to renovate the core settlement and to expand it at the edges with new buildings. On the other hand, the end of the Bata family in Batanagar, the city that the shoe manufacturer built from nothing near Calcutta on the banks of the Ganges in 1934, is devastating. Here the demolition is imminent, a golf course and expensive «Kolkata Waterfront» residences are to be built.

What remains?

With the end of the factory towns in the post-industrial era, Tomáš Bat'a (1876–1932), the driving force behind the construction of workers' colonies, was somewhat forgotten. The clever entrepreneur paved the way for the global success of the shoe company with his business model. The exhibition summarizes the principles of personnel management formulated by him under “Social Engineering”. The role of architecture and housing development in the former Bata model of success, how they were able to form a workforce into a following that fully identified with the company goals and the guidelines of the corporate culture, can be clearly understood in the SAM. If one digs a little deeper, it becomes clear that the end of the industrial age, the deregulation of working conditions and the increasing individualization of life plans have overrun the settlement form of the workers' colonies, which were also collective schools of life. The residential buildings in the Bata factory towns were planned to last forty years. The fact that they are preserved today as a listed building or that they are demolished indicates the very different social significance of remembrance of the modern age.

Until October 14th. Exhibition brochure: The Bata Colony in Möhlin. Ed. Architekturmuseum Basel, 1992. 85 S., Fr. 22.–.