Steven Tipping, thinker, traveler, creative industry innovator

By Lulu Tipping

Steve Tipping, Nov. 12, 1947 – Aug. 11, 2017.

Steven was born Nov. 12, 1947 in Ithaca, New York, to Kenneth and Virginia Tipping; his father was studying law at Cornell University, where his mother had completed her undergraduate degree. He was the third of four children. His father’s work brought them to Long Island and a year living abroad in Venezuela. His parents’ divorce led his mother and her children back to her hometown in Salamanca, New York.

Steven’s interest in building was evident at an early age — if he didn’t have it, he would build it. He was an athlete — football quarterback, basketball guard, pole-vaulter. Pole vaulting incorporated speed, strength, suspension, and physics. It thrilled him so much that he constructed his own bar and pit in the backyard. He practiced diligently and made it to the state level in competition.

After graduating from Salamanca High School in 1965, Steven entered Clemson University to study civil engineering and, encouraged by a strong family military history, enrolled in ROTC. He received his bachelor’s of science degree in 1969.

American soldier

In 1970 Steven was called to active duty in Vietnam; he went, with reluctance. As first lieutenant, he led a convoy to start road construction in the remote areas of DaLat. It was important for him to keep up the morale of his platoon, so he built a basketball court. Vietnam was the beginning of his international travels.

Full moon in Corfu

July 1972: traveling from Patra, Greece, by ferry to Brindisi, Italy, he met a young teacher who was traveling with a colleague. The ferry docked on the island of Corfu for service. Standing on the deck, overlooking the sea of darkness, he started the conversation with, “Do you speak English….” It was a fourteen-hour overnight trip. They discussed John Fowles’ The Magus. From Brindisi, their travel plans would have separated them — hers to Rome, his to Naples. He changed his and accompanied her to Rome — for just a weekend. They had little money, no plans, but magical adventures — opera, watermelon, pasta. He would see her in California.

All about building

September 1972: Steven traveled cross-country to California. He settled in San Francisco and, after multiple phone calls, finally reconnected with that young teacher. He took a draftsman position with a notable but small firm on the Embarcadero. This was the start of his professional career.

Building relationships

March 1974: Steven proposed — to purchase a home in Berkeley with his savings, his salary, and hers. She said yes, and they married Sept. 29, 1974.

Building a family

First born, Brandon, in August 1978. Second born, Christian, in June, 1980. Third born, Megan, January 1983. Fourth born, Justin, April 1985. In his children Steven instilled the importance of self-reliance, commitment, generosity, love — principles that build character and make life good, principles he always practiced.

Building a home

March 1980: while moonlighting a job, Steven discovers Wildcat Canyon in El Cerrito. He falls in love with the green spring hills, the view reminiscent of the valley in Salamanca, a place to build for his family. No lots were for sale, but he is optimistic and determined. In June 1981, we move into a newly constructed home with a tranquil, expansive view.

Building a business

Aug. 19, 1983: Steven Tipping & Associates is created in the undeveloped space of our home. It’s just Steven and Lu, conducting business, with four children and a cat.

Optimistic and determined, we know we are going to make it.

January 1984: the office relocates to Powell Street in Emeryville, by the marina, with a view of the Bay Bridge.

The Tipping buildings

Realizing the business is growing out of the Emeryville space, Steven is determined and optimistic that he will build an office space for his people. It would be a place of great interest and comfort. Sitting at Oscar’s over hamburgers one day, he notices the lot across the street at 1906 Shattuck Avenue, on the edge of downtown Berkeley, and sees his new office. In 1995, Steven Tipping & Associates occupies the new space.

July 2016: the completion of his new office at 1908 Shattuck, annexed to 1906. The building is the physical expression of his innovative, audacious thinking, explosive creativity, and aesthetic sense — always sensitive in developing a fun and comfortable environment for those he employed.

The thinker

Steven’s greatest ideas would begin on a napkin, a scratch pad — anywhere, anytime. He will be remembered by everyone as a thinker, a loving man, a very devoted husband, a great model to his children and grandson — whom he loved unconditionally — a lover of cats and dogs, an extraordinary engineer, and an unselfish man who wanted to do even better in building buildings that would withstand catastrophe and save lives.

For information about services planned for Steven Tipping, email info@tippingstructural.com 

A remembrance by Tipping Structural Engineers:

With very heavy hearts, Tipping Structural Engineers (TSE) announces that founder Steven B. Tipping passed away suddenly on Aug. 11, 2017. He would have been 70 this November.

TSE, founded in 1983, is a full-service structural engineering firm located in downtown Berkeley.

Tipping served as the president of the firm since its founding in 1983; in 2014 he named Mike Korolyk, Leo Panian, and Marc Steyer co-principals, charged with the day-to-day operations of TSE.

For more than 35 years, Tipping advanced the science and art of structural engineering, pioneering creative yet pragmatic design solutions for a broad range of projects. His inventions and accomplishments in seismic retrofit design have been especially crucial to the earthquake-prone Bay Area. At the same time, his emphasis on constructability culminated in an unparalleled expertise in cost- and resource-efficient solutions.

Instilling the spirit of innovation in his staff, he led Tipping Structural Engineers (TSE) to win 40 local, regional, and national awards for excellence in structural engineering. Tipping pioneered the use of vertical post-tensioning to deliver self-centering capability to concrete walls; TSE has applied progressive iterations of this lateral system to the design of bold projects such as the SF Public Utilities Commission headquarters, the Rene Cazenave Apartments, and UC Berkeley’s Campbell Hall.

In 2012 Tipping designed a novel retrofit system for 680 Folsom in San Francisco; he was inspired by the centuries’-old Japanese pagoda, in which a central spine (shinbashira) pivots in a stone well during an earthquake, controling the movement of the building. And this year SEAONC, SEAOC, and NCSEA, through their respective Excellence in Structural Engineering awards, recognized Tipping’s idiosyncratic seismic isolation solution for the second eponymous Tipping Building, at 1908 Shattuck Avenue.

In early 2013, Tipping was included for the second time in Engineering News Record’s Top 25 Newsmakers, for his post-tensioned concrete-core shear-wall innovation as it contributed to the great success of the SFPUC headquarters. In 2006 he was selected as a Top 25 Newsmakers for developing a simple, corrugated-metal shear-wall assembly that promises great potential in lowering construction costs and improving the seismic performance of multiunit housing projects. This research project also earned Tipping an Excellence in Structural Engineering Award in 2009 from SEAONC.

Tipping earned a B.S. in civil engineering from Clemson University. (In 2014, the university’s Department of Civil Engineering selected Steve as the recipient of their 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award.) He then embarked upon his engineering career as first lieutenant with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Sill, OK, soon thereafter completing a tour of duty in Vietnam. After working for several Bay Area engineering firms, he founded Steven Tipping and Associates in 1983, renaming the firm Tipping Structural Engineers in 2014. Tipping served as a board member and president (2002–2003) of SEAONC and was inducted as a fellow of the organization in 2004.