Natalie Koerner: ‘Sinkholes: Temporal Abyss, Spatial Rupture’

Abstract: Sinkholes come as a shock. Their occurrence in the highly constructed context of cities like Fukuoka or Guatemala City creates a rapture in normalcy, a temporal abyss in the spatial continuity of the urban fabric. They reveal an unfamiliar cross-section of the urban ground, requiring a reassessment of that terrain.

From a Heideggerian viewpoint, a sinkhole in a densely inhabited region is a truly existential catastrophe: the ground gives way and the fourfold collapses. In the relationship between settlement and ground, the ground is expected to be passive, supportive and nurturing. It is assumed to provide Erdung (‘earthing’).

The sudden occurrence of gaps in the urban fabric and the resulting sense of discontinuity lays open an always latent disconnection between the tempo of the ground and the pace of man-made settlements. The movements and activities that occur beneath the surface of the ground are beyond our scope of perception.

Engaging Martin Heidegger’s  notion of ground, Timothy Morten’s (1968) concept of the hyperobject and Charles Lyell’s ( 1797-1875) perception of the world as its own archive, this paper investigates the ground as active temporal entity. Three temporal realities converge in the abrupt gap of a sinkhole: disconnection, latency and episodicness.

The 300×400 metres sculpture Il Grande Cretto (1984-2015) by Alberto Burri (1915-1995) will serve as artistic case study to illustrate the temporal implications of the sinkhole as spatial phenomenon. The artwork was constructed in the aftermath of the 1968 Belice earthquake in Western Sicily, to commemorate the site and remnants of the completely destroyed town Gibellina. 1.6 metres tall, hollow concrete blocks contain the town’s remnants that had been are shaken off the ground. One of these containers features a hole that can be interpreted as a sinkhole: An unexpected opening into the concrete tomb of the town’s preserved rubble and its precarious connection to the ground.

BioNatalie Koerner (DE) is an architect currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the KADK, which involves academic and artistic work. She received her bachelor of architecture from Cambridge University (2008) and master degree from ETH Zurich (2011). She has worked for Gigon/Guyer Architects, Zurich, Knapkiewicz & Fickert, Zurich and Studio Olafur Eliasson, Berlin. Her praxis and research revolve around the spatial aspects of memory.

*Image credit: Rino Palma, ‘Alberto Burri – Il grande Cretto di Gibellina’, source: