Trying to understand: Doomed in the “Death Star”

UC Davis’ Social Sciences and Humanities Building (SOCSCI), more commonly referred to as the “Death Star,” continually lives up to its reputation of being the most confusing place on campus. This labyrinthine building, designed by Antoine Predock, pulls newcomers in and whirls them around its concrete walls.

Nicknamed after the Death Star in Star Wars, a space station that carried an instrument that was capable of destroying an entire planet, our version can also cause dismay and ruin.

All who dare to enter, whether aware of the building’s maze-like architecture or not, are treated to a complimentary excursion. For some it’s exciting, but for those who don’t cushion their schedule with approximately twenty extra minutes, it’s distressing.

It’s easy to tell who’s lost because their eyes grow frightful as they’re forced to meander down hallways and up flights of stairs, only hoping not to be late to class or get lost forever in the concrete and shiny metallic abyss.

Having only been in the Death Star once, I decided to conduct an experiment and engage in the design chaos of the building. I was blindfolded and led deep into the building at night, dropped off, and had to find my way to a specific department.

Two friends deposited me in room 2203 in the history department (2nd floor), and my destination was the Library for Agricultural and Resource Economics (4th floor). They had a two minute head start and my mission was to find them as fast as possible at the entrance of the library.

A timer was set, so the pressure was on.

I navigated my way through hallways and up and down countless flights of stairs, passing the same people and offices in what seemed like every two minutes.

Unfamiliar with the layout of the Death Star and not relying on maps, I followed my rather lacking sense of direction. In an effort to conduct this experiment as accurately as possible, I didn’t take people up on their offers to lead me in the right direction. Instead, I flew solo — looking like a chicken with its head cut off as I ran around and narrated what I was doing into a voice recorder on my phone.

So, not only did I look lost and confused, but I appeared to be crazy as I talked to myself.

After roaming around in the barren and desolate maze of concrete walls, I started referring to my phone as Wilson in the hope he would morph into a volleyball. Devoid of human interaction, I dashed around in the dark, only hoping to set my eyes upon the library doors before the time on the stopwatch reached a pathetic number.

My goal was to be able to bask in an endless amount of glory when I beat the wrath of the Death Star by finding my friends in an impressive amount of time. Sadly, that was not my reality. I was forced to surrender what little bits of ego I had left once the timer reached above 10 minutes.

It took me precisely 25 minutes to arrive at my destination. Locked doors and staircases that led to nowhere didn’t assist me throughout my journey.

Predock purposely designed this building in a confusing manner to encourage social interaction. Doors are randomly locked in order to force people to take a different route, and the amount of floors differ in each building structure. Ingenious.

The Death Star perplexes most people, but it’s something that makes UC Davis more interesting and unique. This unusually stimulating building houses an array of activities and serves a great communal purpose.

Many clubs gather here to play all sorts of games, e.g. Nerf wars, Sardines and hide-and-seek, and others just come to explore, hang out on the rooftops or overlook campus. If you’ve never entered SOCSCI, then go do it today. Don’t wait until you have a class there and it takes you half an hour to find it.

Although the building itself may seem grim, once you get past the odd design patterns and colorless facade, you’ll realize that it’s a cool place that adds to the ambiance of Davis.

SAVANNAH HOLMES can be found blindfolded in SOCSCI 2203 or can be reached at skholmes@ucdavis.edu.