An architect in a world of engineers

​They keep out of the spotlight and not much is known about their work. Even so, they are an essential part of the car development and production process. This episode of our Škoda Storyboard series showcases the work of an architect in technical development.

Matěj Vydra is an architect. He is not only responsible for investments in new construction projects, but he also works on digital transformation in Škoda Auto Technical Development. His role goes far beyond traditional architecture: he combines technical development with sustainability and social responsibility, as embodied by the new cycle paths project around the Škoda plant, for example.

For a long time, Matěj was torn between the careers of mechanical engineer and architect. In the end, architecture won out. “It would never have occurred to me my career would turn out like this. During my internships I worked in several renowned architecture studios, designing buildings. I was involved in all stages of project preparation. I felt I was beginning to know my way around the architecture business and I wanted to broaden my horizons and try something new. So I started to explore where the boundaries of my field were,” he says, describing his first steps in interdisciplinary work with mechanical engineers.

Leave your ego at the door

Today, Matěj Vydra is the only architect in Škoda Technical Development, a section employing three thousand people. Among the projects he has worked on are a footbridge over the Jizera River designed by the famous Czech architect Josef Pleskot and the Virtual Development Centre, which was inaugurated in January 2024. He tries to dispel stereotypical ideas of an architect as someone who stubbornly asserts his own ideas and isn’t open to debate.

“Ego can be a hindrance in architecture, and you can’t go about things that way here. We are an industrial enterprise – we have to be able to execute an investment plan in a way that ensures the company gets a return on its investment as soon as possible. I am on the investor side, so I can exert a major influence on the quality of the result, more so than the contractors, in fact. I define the brief and make sure that the external companies fulfil it. I try to work with the best architects. Having good partners is a prerequisite for a good result,” he explains.

​Although the typical architect has his head full of buildings and urban development projects, Matěj Vydra likes to switch off by escaping into the countryside. “I am drawn to mountains. I love sleeping in mountain huts in the Alps, where you can trace how the sun streaks across the landscape, minute by minute. Which brings me back to architecture. As the most important architects of the 20th century like Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier said: light is the cornerstone of architecture.”

Moderating discussions

Matěj Vydra is clear on what a good architect should be like. “As far as I’m concerned, being able to moderate a discussion is crucial. Architects have to be able to express their opinions and defend their positions, but also to listen and be open to compromise. I, too, try to be a moderator and a good interdisciplinary team player. In the car industry, I’m often dealing with people who have nothing to do with architecture – they deal with cars; my work, on the other hand, is not directly related to cars. You might say I’m trying to create the best possible building for people who are trying to create the best possible cars. If you keep your eyes open and want to be a team player, even an ordinary assignment can produce extraordinary results,” he says.

What about his professional vision when it comes to architecture? “You’re probably expecting me to wax lyrical about megalomaniacal stadiums, museums or skyscrapers. Sure, they hold a fascination for me too. No doubt every architect would like to try designing something like that some day, without being constrained by financial and ideological considerations. But very few people get that chance. I live here and I want to work with what I have. No environment is neutral. There is always some context: the potential and limitations of the site or the specific requirements of the investor. For me, what a good architect does is find the right balance.”