Steve Kolbe standing in the Johnny Carson school.
Steve Kolbe standing in the Johnny Carson school.

A UNL professor and a team of students are creating a virtual reality recreation of the first building on the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s campus.

The project is titled simply N150, as it’s the 150th anniversary of the university.

“The whole project was kind of concocted about a year and a half ago as we were approaching the whole 150th anniversary.” Steve Kolbe, associate professor of virtual production, interactive media, & cinematic arts at the Johnny Carson School of Film and New Media, said. “We wanted to try to create some buzz around having people be able to experience the very first building on campus, which is called University Hall.”

The current plan for the project is to allow people to actually go inside of a building that hasn’t existed since approximately 1948 when it was torn down. Even models that were commissioned by the university have proven to be incorrect representations.

“We’ve actually proven a couple of things assumed by the university to be wrong.” he said, “There’s an artifact on display in the libraries that claim to be a recreation of University Hall. Based on the images and things we’ve seen, there’s no way that this model is the same building. There are parts of the model that just didn’t exist anywhere on the real building.”

The project itself is proving to be quite the challenge, Kolbe said.

“We don’t really have a whole lot of photos of the interior of that building. There were no blueprints that survived, so we’re basically building the model from the ground up.” he said, “We ended up doing a ton of research on old photos, and if we were lucky we’d find one of the front of the building with a person standing next to it. From there, we’d be able to calculate door size, the height of the building, technical things like that.”

Kolbe and his team of students are actively seeking out photos of the building that may still exist in hopes that they’ll fill in any blank spots.

“What we keep saying is that, man, if somebody can prove us wrong, and they’ve got an actual image, what that looks like – great. Bring it on. I’m happy to be wrong.” he said. “If they can prove me wrong, then I can make it correct. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.”

But Kolbe’s aspirations don’t stop at just the virtual restoration of University Hall.

“This is just the first building. It’d be kind of cool to create a virtual timeline of the university moving forward like 10 years. You’d see buildings that aren’t around anymore. I’d like to maybe even create a history of Memorial Stadium.” he said, “And I’d love to be able to look at the city of Lincoln in the same sort of light, eventually.”

Kolbe and his team hope to have the project released and ready to be viewed by February or March of 2020.

Current UNL Senior majoring in Broadcast Production from Kent, Ohio.