Creativity on Display at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute

By Kurt Johnson Photography • July 7, 2021

pink purple sunset sunrise golden hour clouds cloud sky elevator mural graphic wheat field midwest photography unmc university of nebraska medical center medicine munroe meyer institute specialized care autism genetic research physical mental disabilities karoly mirnics director

From the moment we got involved with The University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, we knew it was going to be something unique and groundbreaking. 

The Munroe–Meyer institute has been part of the Omaha community for over 100 years, serving the needs of people with intellectual and developmental needs.  According to their website, the institute is also committed to research related to preventing and treating genetic disorders and developmental disabilities.

Dr. Karoly Mirnics MD, Ph.D., and director of the institute, said in a news release, the new building near the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Scott Campus is “a dream come true.”

Throughout the project, we worked with Eva Krueger, an interior designer with Altus Architectural Studios, and Alison Topp, Healthcare Architect & Facilities Planner II at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

According to Topp, the Institute choose nature artwork that would create a welcoming and calming environment to ease the anxieties of those seeking care.   

We worked closely with Topp and the rest of the team to provide lots of options that would fit the needs of their facility, patients, and care team.

We created custom vector elevator murals on every floor of the building and added graphic elements to the images, creating positive distractions for everyone entering the facility.  Using vector graphics allowed for unlimited scalability, which made them perfect for covering the large space on and around the elevators.  Converting the images to vectors also created graphics that would match the fresh and playful atmosphere of the institute.

In the image below, non-threatening wildlife (birds) were added to the landscape mural, giving patients more ways to engage with the artwork.  KJP’s artistic director, Tori Gerkin, worked closely with Topp and the design team to perfect each custom graphic.

Framed art and custom gallery-wrapped canvas “clusters”  were hung in the hallways of the multi-specialty clinic on the 3rd floor.  Topp described the intention for the facility being “the caregiver comes to the patient rather than the patient bouncing all over the building.”  This unique and innovative concept is part of the appeal of the Munroe-Meyer Institute. 

Knowing the floor would be for both autistic patients and those with other intellectual or physical disabilities led to creative, thoughtful design strategies. 

Topp explained, “We wanted a lot of nature-based art just because that is something that some of these kids respond well to.  But that being said, you don’t know what’s going to trigger or excite a child with autism and engage them, so even on the placement we tried to make sure that we have some open space so if this image is too much for you you can go to the other side of the hallway and kind of focus on that.”

This led to a design strategy of using nature images that would allow viewers to lose themselves in the artwork.  Topp described patients “being able to dig in and find some special detail . . . count the rings, count the points on the petals, some of those pieces where you can kind of lose yourself in the images.”

And the walls opposite the artwork were left intentionally blank for patients who might need a visual break from the stimuli. 

Topp worked with our framer and installer, Philip Frangenberg, to hang the pieces in non-traditional ways based on research around the needs of patients with autism and intellectual or physical disabilities. 


We also created wayfinding animal “stickers” to be used throughout the 2nd & 3rd floors.  The animals and insects served as a comforting and repetitive visual that is easily understandable when defining different sections within the space.   This technique is an effective way of helping patients reach their destinations with limited stress and confusion.  Studies have shown children respond positively to bold colors, representational instead of abstract art, and non-threatening wildlife.

The animal “stickers” and elevator murals were printed and installed by Renze Display.

This unparalleled institute is a welcome addition to the Omaha area and those seeking specialized care across the country.  MMI Director, Karoly Mirnics, MD, Ph.D., summed up this project and its significance during his speech at the opening of this groundbreaking facility:

“I learned that the human spirit is unbreakable. That love is a key moral compass, and the community spirit is the engine that makes us soar. And that is the theme of our new building. We built the world’s most advanced treatment diagnostic and community engagement facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. We built it on time and on budget during COVID. The vision of leaders, the love of parents, the passion of providers, the thoughtfulness of fundraisers, the skills of architects, the wisdom of elected officials, the sweat of the builders, and the resources and love of our amazing philanthropists glued this building together.”

Construction by MCL Construction.

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