Kapok trees, honeycombs and mangroves are just a few of the naturally occurring features or processes that have informed the designs of buildings from Haiti to South Korea to New York City in recent years.

“Nature is a dynamic entity, and we should be trying to design our buildings, our landscape and our cities to recognize that,” said Thomas Knittel, a biomimicry specialist at the prominent Seattle-based architecture firm HOK.

In Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, for example, the rainy season and humid climate have been factored into the design of HOK’s Project Haiti, an orphanage that is to replace one ruined by the 2010 earthquake. Construction is to begin this spring, and the building should be completed later this year. The highly adaptable Caribbean kapok tree inspired Project Haiti’s functional design. Kapok trees store water internally and shed their leaves under drought conditions to conserve energy. Likewise, Project Haiti responds directly to the weather and maximizes available resources.