From 5 April 2017 the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is exhibiting various designs for the village of Nagele (1946-64), a village in the Noordoostpolder, from the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut. Although designed to house only a few thousand agricultural workers, Nagele is a classic example of post-war modernist architecture and town planning: with extensive green areas; row housing; separation of living, working, leisure and traffic; and a contemporary shopping centre.
Het Nieuwe Instituut preserves almost a thousand design drawings, documents and photographs relating to the design of Nagele. Given that more than thirty architects were involved in design and construction of the village, these pieces are spread across numerous archives, such as those of Alexander Bodon, Cornelis van Eesteren, Mart Kamerling, Johan Niegeman, Gerrit Rietveld, Mart Stam, Wim Wissing and Van den Broek & Bakema.
Village on new land
The design and construction of Nagele are important in Dutch cultural history. The village is located on ground that formerly lay under the Zuiderzee, an inlet of the North Sea. The damming of the Zuiderzee was followed by three major land-reclamation projects: the Wieringermeer (1927-1930), the Noordoostpolder (1936-1942) and the Flevopolder (1957-1968). The government was now faced with the enormous task of designing this new province and making it inhabitable. The government determined the siting of the villages, the division of land within the polders and the routes of the roads and canals. At the heart of the Noordoostpolder, a new administrative centre called Emmeloord was created, ringed by ten new villages.
The majority of villages in the Noordoostpolder were designed by architects or advisors employed by the government. But the design for Nagele was initiated by a consortium of architects who were members of the modernist groups De 8 and Opbouw. They were critical of the villages that had thus far been built in the Wieringermeer. They saw these villages, designed according to traditional ideas under the supervision of architect Granpré Molière, as a clichéd idyll in their attempt to recreate archetypal Dutch villages.
In the ten years that it took to design Nagele, more than thirty architects worked with great commitment and idealism, drawing and revising designs, rejecting them and drawing them afresh. They had big ideas for a small village with only three hundred houses: well organised, modern, functional, free from corny nostalgia and with great social cohesion. The designers were convinced that the design for Nagele should be realised through a collective effort. They considered working as a group to be a necessary creative process in which mutual inspiration would lead to the best designs. Despite individual differences, the designs exhibit remarkable cohesion: a green area at the centre with communal facilities, surrounded by the residential areas, with the outer layer formed by forest. Nagele was built in the mid-1950s according to this structure, which was settled upon fairly early in the design process.
Since 2013 Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Rijksmuseum have operated a co-curatorship programme for the Rijksmuseum’s twentieth-century displays. Every four months a new selection is made from Het Nieuwe Instituut’s archives, with a focus on two periods: the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 1930s, and the 1950s and 1960s. The Rijksmuseum takes care of the conservation and, where required, restoration of the drawings. Earlier selections have included works by Piet Blom, Hendrik Wijdeveld, Gerrit Rietveld, Jan Duiker, Cornelis van Eesteren, Herman Hertzberger and Wim Wissing.
Text Ellen Smit