New Residence Halls

Virtual Reality Brings Campus Home
Students get a virtual reality sneak peek of the new residence halls.

By Hannah Epperson ’11 MLAS ’18

When it comes to envisioning yourself in your new university home, a picture really just doesn’t cut it. After all, this is the residence hall you’ll be living in for the next academic year of your life. You’ve got to be able to really see yourself there before you make any big decisions.

UNC Asheville has partnered with Better Than Unicorns, a local virtual reality studio, to create cutting-edge virtual reality tours of every residence hall on campus—including the ones that haven’t been finished yet.

It starts with downloading and opening the Gazal app, and then either donning a virtual reality (VR) headset or glasses— or just using your smart phone—and entering the virtual UNC Asheville.

“Let’s say you pick Governors Hall,” explained Better Than Unicorns founder and “Big Chief” Brett A. McCall. “It’ll take you outside of Governors Hall, inside what’s called a photosphere. A photosphere is a 360 degrees, up down, left right, all the way around you, completely immersive image that you can look in all directions for what it looks like in that location.”

Using icons placed around the virtual environment, students can navigate their way around the residence hall.

“We believe that this creates a more interactive experience so that the students can actually see themselves in the rooms,” said Melanie Fox, associate dean of students in residential education. “Whereas when you’re looking at a two-dimensional photograph, it’s really hard to picture yourself living there. And in the virtual reality situation, you can actually move around the room, you can see it as if you were standing in the middle of it.”

This innovative experience is one students are unlikely to find elsewhere, McCall said.

“UNCA has made a move that puts them in front of most universities and really, most brick and mortar locations in the world,” McCall said. “I think this is like a one-percenter kind of a move they’ve made by doing this. It’s very cutting edge, I think by the end of this year, there will still only be 5 percent of the population that have done it.”

Students can also get a virtual reality sneak peek of the new residence halls currently being constructed on campus. The “renderspheres” have been constructed from architectural renderings and detail the finishes, the colors, the fabrics, the paint, and the furnishings. The goal is to make visitors and the first residents feel at home, even before they step into the completed residences.

“And we have so many options because all of our residence halls are unique in their individual personalities, that there’s something for everybody,” Fox continued. “And especially now as we open our apartment units, I think that will be an even wider swath of students that we can reach in terms of helping them feel like this is home.”