Social policy during the First Czechoslovak Republic was characterised by a focus on the development of institutional health and social care and social housing. The task reflected the socio-economic, cultural and political changes brought about by the continuing industrialisation and urbanisation of the population. Social housing was a complex issue that expanded beyond the housing conditions of workers with a view to accommodating the needs of the dynamically growing middle-class, especially civil servants.
In Bratislava the establishment of new institutions and the related arrival of the Czech middle class and intelligentsia of civil servants and employees induced a significant social change in the composition of the population and the necessary improvement in its social and housing conditions. This necessitated the construction of modern residential buildings and urban units, which stabilised the internal urban structure and urbanised the outer city along the urban radials. Moreover, the new legislation enshrined framework standards for architecture and urbanism, social standards and legally binding conditions and provided financial support for all potential developers.
A significant contribution to that field would be attributed to construction entrepreneur Rudolf Frič (1887–1975). Even though the Slovak historiography of interwar architecture almost exclusively presents him as a builder of civil engineering structures, his portfolio and contribution would be more complex. The aim of the paper is to identify and critically evaluate Frič’s both architectural and construction work in the field of social housing in interwar Czechoslovakia in the social and urban context of Bratislava. The study focuses on projects of housing cooperatives and private rental blocks, or residential colonies, and partly on examples of city social housing. Their social and architectural qualities are being confronted with the urbanistic impact on the modernizing city.
Housing cooperatives provided their members with more affordable social housing. Cooperatives with the highest socio-economic relevance were founded by the Bank of the Czechoslovak Legions (Legiobanka). Those were the Construction Cooperative of the Czechoslovak Legionaries and the Construction Cooperative of Civil Servants and Railway Workers, for which Frič designed and constructed several buildings. In early 1920s he built residential urban structure “Legiodomy”, designed by Dušan Jurkovič and Jan Pacl, which urbanised the then former city suburbs along the Račianska radial. Later, Frič’s firm also designed a legionary colony of detached houses and functionalist elementary school in the newly founded Bat’ov (Batu) in Subcarpathian Ukraine. The colony and the town itself are among the few examples of planned Czechoslovak settlements in the region. Frič designed a similar project based on the ideas of the garden city for the cooperative of railway workers in Koliba. In late 1930s Frič’s practice carried out the last two projects for the Legionary Cooperative in Bratislava – the polyfunctional residential house of the Legiopojišťovna designed by Vojtěch Kerhart and the polyfunctional LUXOR department store designed by Jan Víšek.
Frič’s construction portfolio also includes individual projects of rental houses for smaller cooperatives. From the urbanistic point of view, they could be divided into two groups: those in the compact city centre, e. g. the “DŽOS” cooperative block of flats in Gajova Street designed by Josef Nowotný, and those urbanising the outer city radials like the Construction Cooperative block of flats in Šancová Street designed by Frič.
A specific category of social housing directly financed by the state was housing for members of the army. The residential blocks for military veterans in Bratislava, designed by Frič, also created a new foundation for block urbanism in the territory of the former northern suburb between Mýtna and Šancová radial streets.
A critical category of social housing was social housing for the poorest and unemployed which is represented by the City rental house with habitable kitchens and the smallest flats, designed by Josef Marek and built by Rudolf Frič and Ján Petri. The lodging house and dormitory in Jelenia Street, designed by Vojtěch Šebor and built by Rudolf Frič, demonstrates that the state’s social policy also intended to improve the living conditions of seasonal workers.
Besides the state, the city and housing cooperatives, private investors played a significant role in the accessibility of social housing. Their clientele of tenants consisted of those who could afford the commercial rent. Such an example is the rental residential block of Irma Hanke and Helena Hudečková, designed by Frič at the corner of Suché Mýto and Panenská Street, where it brought a new urban scale. At urbanistically exposed crossing of Mýtna and Šancová urbanising radials, he built the Trojan & Švarc company polyfunctional department designed by Vojtěch Šebor. Frič, as a construction entrepreneur, designed and built rental houses for his own employees in Lazaretská Street, Račianska radial and at the axis of the emerging Koliba district. They all reflect the influence of private investors on the social and urban changes of then modernising Bratislava metropolis.