"When it comes to designing for efficiency, balance and resiliency, nothing beats emulating Earth's creatures," says Thomas Knittel, HOK senior design principal in Los Angeles. "Architects can bridge the gap between the built and natural environments through biomimicry, an emerging field of study urging emulation of naturally occurring principles and processes."

For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center at the Pearl Harbor joint base in Honolulu, HOK turned to native Hawaiian trees to develop a grid of rooftop apertures with 4-ft-sq tubes that carry direct sunlight down into the structure, which comprises two renovated World War II-era airplane hangars joined by a new building. Translucent reflectors capture and distribute light while mitigating glare through reflection. The system, inspired by tree leaves, creates even, natural light levels throughout the adaptive reuse building, cutting electric lighting requirements by 50%.

The $331-million, LEED-Gold project, dedicated in December, also features Hawaii's first passive cooling system, which uses seawater to cool prevailing breezes for natural ventilation through an underground air distribution system. "It's one example of how we reverse-engineered a specific ecological feature while meeting ecosystem needs," Knittel says.

HOK's California operations continue to be in high demand for creative project solutions, and the firm anticipates a 7% increase in revenue next year. "We work together with our clients and contractors, maintaining solid relationships. In fact, we have no pending claims against us," Drinker says. "We believe in maintaining an environment of respect and professionalism."