from the THIRD POLE to the NINE DRAGONS (2017)

Project Title:

from the THIRD POLE to the NINE DRAGONS: Keeping the Water, the Power, and the People in the Mekong River Basin

Project Description: 

The Watershed Architecture of the Mekong River Basin


Tens of millions embrace the Mekong River Basin for its dynamic fluctuations of bountiful water resources. To maintain abundance, the Mekong’s namesake and its tributaries pulsate – radically – between wet and dry seasons causing extreme variations in water levels. Communities not only embrace floods and droughts, they also rely on them for plentiful returns. Seasonal pulses provide positive, not negative feedback loops – a truly unique precedent for resiliency. But such dynamism is at threat. The Mekong finds itself at a tipping point for 2 fundamental reasons:

1) Climate Change will create major fresh water scarcities.


2) Dam Infrastructure designed to supply energy and irrigation demands, will exacerbate fresh water scarcities.

The alterations to the dynamics of the Mekong River Basin caused by climate change and dam infrastructure threaten to decouple the critical link between the source at the Third Pole (Tibetan Plateau) and to the mouth of the Nine Dragons (Mekong Delta). To survive, all local communities of the Mekong River Basin must be empowered with a pro-active role in designing collective, future resiliencies for their river basin.

from the Third Pole to the Nine Dragons” outlines a simple, 2-part toolkit for communities to understand their local futures within broader river-basin scaled threats and adaptations:

Part 1: Expose 6 adverse, trans-boundary Threats of climate change + dam infrastructure projects on future fresh water scarcity.

Part 2: Engage 6 resilient, trans-boundary Adaptations that keep the water, the power, and the people within the Mekong River Basin.

The toolkit culminates in an integrated map for the Mekong River Basin. Defined as Watershed Architecture, the flexible template enables various Mekong communities to holistically understand the threats and adaptations, and to collectively determine the resilient futures of their river basin.

Project Collaborators:
Derek Hoeferlin, Architect (design lead)
Jess Vanecek (research assistant)
Rob Birch (research assistant)

2017 Designing Resilience in Asia International Open Competition

National University of Singapore 

First Place

Jury Comments:

This proposal provides a very strong vision of how water resources could be managed systematically across boundaries. The regional-scale analysis and simple response provokes visionary discussions about cross-boundary collaboration and water management, providing tools for negotiation. The project has potential to operate at multiple scales.

The project can be applied on other territories with alike conditions. The idea of involving not only the public scale but also the local communities is well considered on the proposal goals.

A bold concept traversing socio-political and policy considerations

A comprehensive nature of impact- from macro to micro-scale

Strong and unique visuals

Clarity of thought and a very well structured storyboard

The proposal shows a depth of research and reality of solutions, It highlights the problem of water management not only as a problem of weather, but rather of social behavior.