Steven Tipping’s legacy lives on in his family and building designs
Steven Tipping’s family remembered him as a devoted husband, loving father, visionary thinker, passionate problem-solver and loyal Golden State Warriors fan.
Steven collapsed at the end of a mountain bike ride and died in August 2017 but not before raising four children with his wife, Lu, and establishing himself as one of the world’s leading earthquake engineers.
“He was very passionate about what he did, very hard driving about what he did,” said his oldest son, Brandon. “He had very high expectations for people around him and those he loved. But it was always with a pat on the back. That was how he liked to live his life.”
Steven, who was 69 when he died, was posthumously inducted into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists. It’s the highest honor bestowed by Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
Steven graduated from Clemson in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. He went on to found and serve as president of Tipping Structural Engineers, a Berkeley, California firm with more than 30 employees.
He was twice recognized as a Newsmaker by the Engineering News-Record for the development of two innovative systems that improve seismic performance.
“This recognition is quite rare for practicing engineers, and to do it twice is almost unprecedented,” said Brad Putman, who is a civil engineer and associate dean in the college.
Steven came to Clemson from Salamanca High School in New York. He enrolled in ROTC, encouraged byan strong family military history.
After graduation, Steven joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was called to active duty in Vietnam, where he served as first lieutenant. He led a convoy to start road construction in the remote areas of DaLat and built a basketball court to keep up the morale of his platoon.
Lu remembers meeting her husband in July 1972 on a 14-hour overnight trip from Patra, Greece to Brindisi, Italy. A conversation that started with him asking “do you speak English” led to him changing his travel plans so they could experience and explore a weekend together in Rome.
When Steven got back to the United States in September, he headed for San Francisco and tracked down Lu, who was from the Bay Area. They reconnected, and Steven began his career as a draftsman.
The Tippings were together 45 years, all but two as a married couple. Their four children are Brandon, Christian, Megan and Justin.
“He was very humble,” Lu said. “He avoided talking about himself and his accomplishments but rather was more interested in others. He was a good listener. He liked to travel. He loved unconditionally.”
Steven started his firm in 1983 out of his home in El Cerrito. It was just him, his wife, the two children they had the time, and a cat. Justin, the youngest of the Tipping children, remembers his father working at the kitchen table, blueprints spread out.
“But he always found time to be at the baseball games, to take me to my soccer games and school,” Justin said. “It was pretty amazing to watch and learn from him. He taught a lot of lessons– pursue your passion and money will follow. He did what he loved and everything else fell into place.”
The office moved from their home in 1984 to a spot in Emeryville with a view of the Bay Bridge. The business grew, and by 1995 it was time to move again, this time to Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley where Steven built his first of two company office buildings.
A second building adjacent to the first, was completed in 2016. It is recognized as one of the smallest base-isolated commercial buildings in the country. It is unique because the isolators are exposed to public view–an idea that Steven conceptualized to educate the public about seismic construction in an area prone to earthquakes.
The Engineering News-Record named Steven a Newsmaker for the first time in 2007. The publication cited him “for an inventive corrugated-metal shear-wall assembly engineered to reduce dramatically the cost of building quake-resistant multi-unit housing of up to six stories.”
Steven was honored as Newsmaker again in 2013, this time for helping “rescue the beleaguered San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) headquarters project by using a novel, vertically post-tensioned shear-wall system designed to minimize quake damage.”
Christian worked for his father for about five years.
“He was completely approachable,” he said. “Everyone on his staff loved him. He would get really excited when he would come up with a great solution that moved the project as a whole along. But he would bubble over when an employee or the team came together for a solution. He got really psyched.”
When not at work, Steve enjoyed sports, books, movies, country music and building and fixing anything. He was very athletic, playing basketball until his knees would no longer allow it. He enjoyed action and Western movies, especially the Clint Eastwood classic, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” He was Golden State Warriors fan since the 1970s.
“He was never going to retire, but he was going to reduce his time at work,” Lu said. “His love was to continue to problem-solve and creating patents. Inventing anything that would improve safer buildings was his focus.”
His daughter, Megan Tipping, described her father as her hero, biggest fan and supportive in every way.
“He was quiet and intuitive and wise,” she said. “He inspired me to be creative, think ‘big’ and not to fear taking risks on a great idea or goal in life, and never lose hope. “