09 . 30 . 2020

Bata Shoe Factory, Batawa, Ontario

AUTHOR Canadian Architect

The late Sonja Bata, working with her husband Tomáš Bata, was the driving force behind the creation of the modernist factory town of Batawa, located 175 km east of Toronto on the Trent River. The Bata Shoe Company, founded by Tomáš, went on to create a series of modernist factories abroad.

Sonja continued to pursue her passion for architecture and the built environment after the closure of those factories, including through her plans to revitalize the town of Batawa.

In 1939, at the onset of WWII, the Bata family transplanted their shoe empire, including 120 workers and their families, from Czechoslovakia to Canada, establishing a company town that would become a prototype for subsequent Bata operations around the world.

The factory was decommissioned in 2000 and sold to a plastics factory. However, after the death of her husband in 2008, Bata repurchased the entire 1,500-acre site, with the objective of reinventing the town once more as a model of sustainable development. The first installment and centrepiece of this vision, completed after Bata’s death in 2019, is the ambitious adaptive re-use and conversion of the former manufacturing facility into a mixed-use residential, commercial and community building with a light environmental footprint and a strong social mandate.

Designed by Quadrangle as Architect of Record, with Dubbeldam Architecture + Design as Collaborating Design Architect, the modernist-style factory now encompasses 47 rental residential units of varying sizes on the upper three storeys, with commercial and retail amenities below.

These include a children’s daycare with an outdoor playground, an exhibition/community space, multi-purpose rooms for meetings and lectures, educational incubators, a ground floor retail store and café, and an accessible rooftop terrace with panoramic views.

Tenants with a taste for authentic industrial modernist architecture will find much to appreciate here. The original building’s concrete waffle slab structure (an innovation that the Bata’s brought with them from Europe) and its generous open spans allowed for its conversion into residential units with 12’ high ceilings and abundant natural light.

In alignment with Bata’s vision of the building as a model for advancing sustainable architecture, the renovated factory retains the original concrete structure, saving close to 80 per cent of the embodied carbon from the original building.

Its HVAC systems are powered entirely by geothermal energy, and new materials or systems were selected to be as sustainable as possible. Thermal windows and balconies face the town centre and the river. Wood cladding on soffits and balcony walls soften the exterior’s industrial character with natural warmth and a distinctly Canadian flavour that creates harmony between the units and surroundings.

The building sits on the main access road to the town and across from the local community centre, allowing easy access on foot. It is also located in the centre of a frequently used network of bike and walking trails connecting the building to its natural setting.

Photograph – Canadian Architect (Scott Norsworthy)