12 - Villages including Emmeloord: Christaller’s model

The years 1914 - 1942 offered plenty of time and opportunity to reflect on the shape and content of the new land. Unique opportunities required unique solutions. Where else in the world could one find an area that had emerged from the sea, with so much ingenuity, manpower and patience?

Preventing colonization failure

Pane 7 described how much effort and energy Cornelis Lely invested to get his plans for the reclamation of the IJsselmeer polders approved.  After this had happened successfully, Henri Nicolaas ter Veen (1883 - 1949) focussed on the intended new land.  He obtained his PhD with his thesis 'The Haarlemmermeer as a colonization area'. In his thesis, he claimed that the 'best' remained, but he also convincingly described how this had been accompanied by many problems and victims. The cultivation of a dry, but still soggy wilderness in a tough game of social forces was, according to him, unnecessary (see also pane 9). The message of his research was that in the Zuiderzeepolders, the State had to guide the entire colonization process and also had to take responsibility for the selection of the colonists. Even after the Second World War - the feasibility concept had become stronger, the pillarization was still standing tall -, the government wanted only not to make a mark on the infrastructure, but also on the social structure.

Walter Christaller

In Germany, it was Walter Christaller (1893 - 1969) who developed the central location theory.  His theory was derived from a historical settlement pattern in southern German towns around 1933. There, it turned out that regular distances between the residential areas had grown. Everyday staples, such as bread and vegetables, were available in every centre but to buy furniture and clothing, it was necessary to travel further to the nearest larger centre.

The Polder Tower (water tower) in Emmeloord on De Deel (centre space) was built as a centre for the entire polder during the years 1955-1958 and to serve as a spatial 'focal point’ and traditional silhouette of Emmeloord. The tower surpasses all church towers in height and thus solves the problem which of the church towers would be dominant.

The inhabitants of the young Noordoostpolder hailed from different parts of our country. This cultural variety remained noticeable for a long time. In 1951, nobody would have been surprised on the market in Emmeloord that customers in traditional costumes were looking at the goods. These ladies showed in any case to have a Zeeland background.

Walter Christaller’s central location theory was applied in the plans for the villages in the Noordoostpolder: (a) geometric diagram of the proposed location pattern; (b) plan of five new villages around Emmeloord, (c) the revised and executed plan.

The central location theory had already been applied in 1941 in some areas of West Poland which was occupied by the Germans. Christaller defined his observations in a hexagonal system. The village pattern in the Noordoostpolder is directly derived from this system. The polder plan thus departed from the usual theory that settlements develop at crossings of water and roads. 

The Management started with one central location (Emmeloord) and the connecting roads to ten smaller villages within cycling distance. The villages: Bant, Creil, Ens, Espel, Kraggenburg, Luttelgeest, Marknesse, Nagele, Rutten and Tollebeek are connected by a ring road.  One of the Dutch pioneers in this field was Van Lohuizen (1890 - 1956).  He and his employees calculated the demographic and social developments and compared them with those of other regions. Thanks to their calculations and studies, guidelines could be developed for the density, positioning and development of agriculture, businesses, shops, number of houses, churches, etc. 

First houses in Emmeloord, 1943.

Before that ...

A big discussion about the layout of the new area ensued. The starting point was initially a centre location with 5 villages around it and 25 to 45 hamlets (clusters of 10 to 15 houses). Those hamlets would offer no amenities something that turned out to be unacceptable: the distance to schools and the primary facilities was simply too great. The central location Emmeloord, with its providing character, had to be given a supra-local function with all kinds of amenities. In the long run, it even had a key function. The Village plan as it was ultimately carried out was established in 1946.

First residents move into their home, 1943.

These fertile gardens in Emmeloord are spacious and very suitable as a vegetable garden.


Much attention has been paid to the design of Emmeloord. Just as for the villages, a central location was chosen with surrounding residential areas and facilities. But the special thing is that every architect provided his own interpretation. That makes the whole project very interesting.

 The Polder tower under construction, January 23, 1958.

Placement of the weather vane on the polder tower, 1959.

The design of the villages

All villages (except Nagele) including Emmeloord were planned by designers of the Delft School of Prof. Dr. Granpré Molière. Molière was a very traditional man. Nagele, on the other hand, was designed by the architects who belonged to collectives such as 'De 8' and 'De Opbouw'. Famous architects, such as Gerrit Rietveld, Mien Ruys and Aldo van Eyck left their mark on this village, in the style of the “Nieuwe Bouwen” (see also pane 15). Due to the changing circumstances (mechanization and composition of the population) and advancing insights, the plans around Emmeloord could easily be adapted. Emmeloord grew to be a versatile regional centre. That happened at the expense of the villages. Especially Marknesse and Ens, which were the first villages to be built in favourable locations in relation to the old land, were inhibited by the central location policy in favour of Emmeloord. In 2011, the Village DNA was mapped.

 Overview map of Noordoostpolder "in preparation".


In 1944, the official name became: Urkerland. Alternatives such as Schokkerwaard, Urkerwaard and Nieuw Schokland were not accepted. The “Noordoostelijke Polder” was a project name that appears in the Plan Lely from 1891. After the Second World War, the name was pulled together to the Noordoostpolder, with the abbreviation NOP. This abbreviation then also stood for “Nederlands Onderduikers Paradijs” (Dutch Paradise for people in hiding) (see pane 10).

Water map of the Landscape Vollenhove and Urkerland from 1946. In 1948, Urkerland would be renamed in Noordoostpolder.

In 1948, the minister withdrew the name Urkerland again. Given the major role that the name Noordoostpolder played during the occupation time, it became the official name. That decision was included in the Staatscourant (Government Gazette) on 20 August, 1948. And what has become of this place in the 21st century? The population has risen above 45,000 people, churches have become museums or exhibition spaces, schools have merged, the number of agricultural businesses has more than halved, services have become almost the most important source of labour, the original housing has disappeared here and there while the centre of Emmeloord has been modernized and De Deel will host a number of construction projects. 

Note Belvedère

In the summer of 1999, at the initiative of several Dutch state departments, the policy memorandum Belvedere was released. It was supposed to trigger a change in thinking about cultural history. Conservation through development is the credo. This memorandum focuses on the preservation, strengthening and further development of the cultural-historical identity of an area or city through a better use of cultural-historical qualities with spatial adaptations. The Noordoostpolder is mentioned in this memorandum because of the still visible planning concept and the quality of the implementation. Based on that, the area even had a chance of recognition as Unesco World Heritage Site! However, the city council decided to waive this recognition.

Video: "You come along" - Winning entry for competition "Extraordinary Noordoostpolder" by Rob Bredewout, 2011.