Innovative Seismic Engineer Steven Tipping Dies at 69
Seismic engineer Steven B. Tipping, an ENR Newsmaker in 2007 and 2013, died suddenly on Aug. 11, collapsing near the end of a mountain-bike ride. He was 69 years old.
Tipping, president of the 30-plus-person firm he founded in 1983, was named a Newsmaker in 2013 for helping to 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.
He was named a Newsmaker in 2007 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. At the time of his death, Tipping was working to patent a scaled-up version of the system appropriate for a mid-rise or high-rise building, says Leo Panian, a principal at Berkeley, Calif.-based Tipping Structural Engineers.
Panian, who joined Tipping 20 years ago and is one of three principals leading Tipping's transition plan, calls the practice "vibrant and forward-thinking" thanks to Tipping, who "set the tone."
Jack Moehle, a professor of structural engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, echoes Panian and others in the seismic-design community when he describes Tipping as a humble and positive influence. "He came, in some ways, out of nowhere to be one of the most creative forces in the Bay Area," says Moehle.
Another novel Tipping project is the 680 Folsom Street building, which has a 14-story, pivoting structural-concrete spine founded on a base isolator. The lateral system is engineered to minimize damage in the event of a temblor (ENR 10/14/13 p. 10). The high-tech assembly is fashioned after an ancient pagoda's wooden shinbashira, or central pillar.
Tipping's firm was also the structural engineer for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories' FLEXLAB, the world's first rent-a-lab for energy-use tests of integrated office-building systems. The research building features a novel, stand-alone test bed that rotates on a turntable to track the sun. (In 2014, FLEXLAB's mastermind, Stephen E. Selkowitz, was named ENR's Award of Excellence Winner.)
A few years ago, Tipping decided to do some research of his own by base-isolating the upper-level expansion of his Berkeley office building, about a half-mile from the Hayward Fault. The building's performance during a major quake will be recorded, thanks to instrumentation provided under a state program.
"We tell clients they should do this. … I wanted to put my money where my mouth is," said Tipping, who paid a hefty premium to isolate the 7,500-sq-ft building, which he owns.
Licensed in 13 States
Tipping practiced engineering for more than 45 years. He was licensed as a civil or structural engineer in 13 states.
In 1969, after graduating from Clemson University with a bachelor of science in civil engineering, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and completed a tour of duty in Vietnam. Tipping was active in many groups, including the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California. He served as SEAONC's president from 2002-2003.
"Steve topped the list of creative and innovative people," says Phil Williams, currently president of the commercial division of Delos and a former vice president of Webcor Builders, which constructed the SFPUC building.