The Social Sciences and Humanities Building (SOCSCI), designed by Southwest architect Antoine Predock, is a complex, five-storied, maze-like building of classrooms, labs, and offices. SSH 2203, the "Andrews Room", is the main conference room (max. occupancy 49).
It is commonly referred to as the Death Star by students because of its shiny metallic appearance from the outside (reminiscent of the Death Star from Star Wars), as well as the fact that architecturally it is such a maze. The glassed-in catwalk between the two center wings is just begging for a lightsaber duel.
Predock's design philosophy is very concerned with how the structure interacts with its surroundings. He has called his style "abstract landscape"; thus he blends the structure in with the surrounding landscape 1. The building also interacts with the people who use it. It was supposedly designed on purpose to be confusing. Visitors are often forced to talk to someone to find out how to get to where they need to go. Doorways that you need to pass through will sometimes be locked, forcing you to find a new way. The doors that get locked rotate every so often, further confusing the situation. The idea was to force human interaction because it houses the social sciences. The building also has a number of Emergency Buttons, colloquially referred to as "Panic Buttons" located throughout. If you'd prefer to just look at a map, though, these wireless coverage maps are a good way to find the room number you need.
Supposedly, if you were to fly over the building, it looks like a topographic map of California. However, the resemblance is loose at best, as can be seen from this aerial photo (rotated for clarity—North is actually to the left). The building is supposed to be a "metaphor for California's geography."
The building's two center wings are set at angles that slope upward, simulating the geological uplift that formed the western Coast Range and Sacramento Valley. Their silver color also echoes the granite of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Also, the curve of the walkway which winds through the bottom level of the structure is reminiscent of the many rivers which wind through Northern California. In the original design, the plants on the bottom level were to be tomatoes and other local natives, like California bunchgrass. But the extreme heat from the reflective steel proved too much for some of them.
From the architect's web site: "The University is in California's Central Valley, an area with a rich agricultural heritage. Watercourses carve through the surrounding fields. The building is an analogous composition: a curvilinear pedestrian route passes through the low-lying blocks of the buildings aligned with the campus and fields. These blocks form a base for upthrust, sloping pieces that house offices and afford distant views. These pieces are clad in metal and at times seem to dissolve into the sky."
And from an interview in the Winter 2007 UC Davis Magazine: "When I would fly over the San Joaquin Valley, I noticed that the San Joaquin River Delta seemed to interrupt the grid-like parcels which surrounded it," recalls Predock. "I wanted to incorporate this sense of regional topography into the building." Like the delta, the pathway at the base of the building is a twisted spine that connects the various departments, which are colored in varying shades of beige or gray.
The architecture certainly is striking:
It really isn't this grim looking in person. Some of the architectural details are downright lighthearted, like the juxtaposition of outdoor carpet with indoor tile, or the fuzzy rooms. People have been known to describe the style as "Brutalism Lite," but this label is meaningful only in the vaguest possible sense.
Drunken students often make their way to the top of the west tower (which houses the library for Agricultural and Resource Economics) late at night, as the tower commands a view of most of the bits of campus that are worth looking at. Similarly, Davis youth have been known to go to the top of the building with outdated CRT monitors, only to throw them off the roof and watch them crash to the ground. (It should be noted that the university frowns upon both these practices.)
Also, a very good place to play Ball Tag. It's also a GREAT place to play both Sardines and Ditch. When you arrive, go to the bottom level by the elevator in the middle. There are some very cool places to hide here. There are also many games of capture the flag played there, by college students and other Davis citizens alike. It's also a good place for Nerf Wars, but sometimes the cops get called by people who can't tell the difference between an actual sidearm and a large neon-orange-and-yellow chunk of plastic.
The Death Star is also rumored to be the secret headquarters of the Campus Crusade for Chaos and Confusion.
Several live-action roleplaying games are held here on various nights.
There's these long cubby hole windows on, what I believe is the ground floor of the Death Star. With proper tools; blankets and a curtain or something, Sex could very well be had in them. They are just outside the Political Science office, below Philosophy.
The Roland Marchand room in the History Department is a good place to study, although sometimes you'll get chased out of it and it closes at night. There is also a social sciences computing lab in the basement that you need a professor's permission to use. SSH houses Agricultural and Resource Economics, Economics, History, Political Science, Sociology and a weird Psychology Lab building on the ground floor.
Not everybody likes the design of the building (though certainly the administrative officials that approved it and the architect loved it). Upon its completion in 1995 it replaced a parking lot, which was the site of the original Unitrans depot. Before that, this was the approximate location of the football field before it was moved a bit north to become the Toomey Field you know today.
The Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute selected the building for one of its 1996 Design Awards.
2006-09-13 03:19:09 The comment about sex in the death star is funny, some poor poli sci grad student is going to be emerging from his/her office and run into people having sex in his/her window. Watch out, people inhabit those offices until the wee hours of the night, but then again that might be part of the fun. —AmyGoogenspa
2006-09-29 15:56:09 I actually had sex with my college girlfriend in one of the bathrooms shortly after it was built. — Anonymous
2006-10-30 19:44:54 The guy who designed it also built prisons... There was a big stink about the look of the building when it first went up due to it's looks and massive amounts of concrete —StevenDaubert
2007-01-04 00:43:46 The building was going to include water courses and many more plantings, which would be much more inviting, but the university cut the budget after approving the original design. —MorganKanninen
2007-01-09 05:51:05 Its a neat building to explore but its a huge pain if you ever actually want to find something —NathanielFurniss
2007-05-12 20:09:06 Be very careful of the elevator near Social Science 1100. One of my friends got trapped in it when the elevator broke down. He was trying to get to a bathroom on another level. He had to use the phone in the elevator and call for help. Don't press the 911 call boxes, maintenance workers are better able to fix the elevators. Firefighters don't have access to the elevator mechanical rooms. —Jedron
2007-10-23 00:41:26 the 6th floor tower is a nice place to sit and get away from the general noise and confusion of the campus —fredchen
2007-11-18 01:40:44 I especially enjoy the staircase that goes to nowhere. —sososharp
2008-01-01 17:52:49 Has anyone entered the main office for the college of L&S? Apparently students are not permitted to use the the hallway to the left - ever. I've walked in their two times to ask directions for something, and each time that hallway would have served as a shortcut. I was interrupted before walking down the hall by a secretary, who said it's off limits. I tried to get clarity by asking, "Students are allowed to go down there?" and she nodded, affirming it. Does anyone else think that is strange? —AndrewBianchi
2008-10-04 23:24:46 Yeah, watch out when using elevators in this building. I am not sure if it is the same all around the place but the elevators near the History department are unreliable. You could easily get stuck and be stranded. A very scary experience to be stuck in those rickety elevators! —TomLin
2009-01-29 15:05:12 Better images can be found at the architect's website: http://www.predock.com/SocialSciences/UC%20Davis.html —LeaShell
2009-03-24 15:53:14 Anyone know the actual reason given as to why they closed off access to the top tower? Waaaaah! It makes sad enough to jump off a high place...but I can't even get to that one now. :-( —RonB
You're talking about the tower with the elevator shaft and the glass door interrupting the staircase to the top? That's not actually the highest spot here... but I'll let you figure out what is higher on your own. Happy exploring! —wl
2009-05-03 19:12:00 Does anyone know how to get into that glass bridge, or to the top of the westernmost tower? I've been looking for a while, and never managed to get to either. —JoePomidor
2009-10-28 00:56:44 Go through the History Department or enter at the ground floor from the northern glass doors leading to the Dean's office of the Letters and Science Division. Doors lock at 5 PM. The walkway is on the 4th and 5th floor. 5th floor has a stair case that goes to a look out of the school. Very pretty view up there with some fine graffiti. There's also a bunch of plastic windmills up there right now. —ChiakiHirai
2011-01-03 21:05:56 A conversation I overheard as I passed two people emerging from the Death Star:
Young man: Could you tell me where the Social Science building is? Older woman: You just walked out of it.
It is the first day of the quarter, but it was still pretty funny. —Michellaneous
2011-05-16 09:23:07 Have anyone ever wondered why some exterior part of the building has the glossy silver plates while some are just ugly concrete not even painted?( even inside social science lecture hall?) is it because it is unfinished or something due to budget problems? or is it supposed to be like this...i doubt it tho, anyone?? this has bothered me for 2 years now but no one seems to know... —BruceLeung
2011-06-08 22:22:34 Bruce: Yes, it's definitely supposed to be like that. The architect who designed the building (an expert in the field of chaos perspective) was in fact experimenting with non-Euclidean structural geometria, and the framework is not entirely contained within the three dimensions we know. Part of what makes this work is the morphic resonance of bare concrete. The carefully arranged metal plates covering the concrete in some regions act as a dimensional Faraday cage, containing and redirecting the ley flow, but paint on the concrete would just ruin the whole effect. In fact the main reason that maintenance is so strict about vandalism on this particular building is that too much paint on the walls would overload the perspective circuitry, disrupting the foundations and possibly causing the whole structure to collapse! —BarnabasTruman
- All I got from that was I can bring down the building with just paint. BRB... —hankim
- What I got was that the metal plates may have to be replaced and/or reoriented soon, as the removal of the The Domes could plausibly shift the ley lines. More importantly, if their axis is in alignment, it explains the phrase that keeps running through my head: Paladins of Esparto, as Esparto lies directly in alignment with their orientation. ⁓ʝ⍵
- I'm still going to NOT GO WITH THE PAINT THING ANY AND ALL OFFICERS OF THE LAW WHO MIGHT BE READING THIS. —hankim
- Actually, the Domes were specifically designed with a variety of zero-impact environmental concerns in mind, including complete noninterference with ley lines. The rounded shape allows the flow to just pass right over them. ("Over" isn't strictly accurate, but it's the closest three-dimensional approximation of the actual direction. Imagine two Klein bottles tied together with a Moebius loop and you'll have a pretty good idea.) —BarnabasTruman
2011-07-26 16:13:15 thanks for the response BarnabasTruman, but then how come some of the concrete are covered with cream/yellowish grey color of paint but not all? and how did you know the story behind the placement of the metal plates? i just thought it would be so much better looking if its all metal plated, but those plates look pretty expensive tho. —BruceLeung
2011-09-18 00:00:40 I had about 8 minutes to find my way to Undergraduate Education & Advising (200 SSH). Holy Primus, I spent a good 3-4 of those 8 minutes trying to figure out how to get through the Escherian madness. I swear SSH looks like something you'd find on Cybertron. —Metallikato
2012-03-18 00:04:47 I once had to teach a course on the lower floor of the death star. It featured poor lighting, only one chalkboard—compared to other rooms that have 3-4 sliding boards—and had one wall of solid glass. I felt like I was a test subject at some sort of scientific zoo, in which administrators were going to stand by with clipboards and study the effects of teaching in a horrible classroom. Luckily, I was able to move the course on the third day. I pity anyone has had to teach—or learn in that room. —Profe
- Actually I specifically requested that room for a class I taught during the summer. I've dreamed of teaching a class in the Death Star for years, and was overjoyed to finally get a chance. It was everything I'd ever hoped for and more. —BarnabasTruman
2014-03-30 00:13:15 Has anyone created a guide to finding your way around the Deathstar? All I've found so far is the "wireless coverage" map, which sucks.
I'm thinking about using some free time this quarter to begin a project on creating a database with directions to each area of the building. —SnowDay
2015-10-07 22:58:47 There's no way to get up in the tower once the doors lock at night, right? you'd have to be hiding up there before they closed and then let yourself out / other people in... unless the doors are alarmed too? —shmemerly