Desai Donation to Fund Engineering Research

Rajnikant T and Helen Crane Desai

Longtime SEAONC and SEAOC member Raj Desai and wife Helen Crane Desai have made an extraordinary gift of $100,000 to the SEAOC Foundation to fund future research in structural engineering. 

“On behalf of the SEAOC Foundation and the Structural Engineers Association of California I give our whole-hearted thank you for this most generous gift,” said SEAOC Foundation Chair Dick Dreyer.  “We are excited about the future possibilities of using these funds to sponsor research projects in the field of structural engineering analysis and design that will yield new and valuable information for our practice as a whole.”

The Desais, of San Francisco, wish the gift to grow and are encouraging others to donate to the Foundation’s research fund, to further advance the field where Raj Desai successfully practiced for decades.

“I’ve just always enjoyed seeing things get built,” Desai said.  “Helping them grow – you’re just like a farmer.” 

Born in India, Desai recalls an early interest in math and science and the encouragement from family members to pursue engineering   His choice of structural design was confirmed upon witnessing earthquake damage to the city of Mumbai, where he earned his Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Bombay in 1948.

Desai immigrated to the US, earned his MS at UC Berkeley, and went into practice, eventually forming Raj Desai Associates Structural Engineers in 1974.   His projects from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s dot the Bay Area and beyond, his favorite being the quirky, imposing McGraw Hill distribution center in Novato (now a Birkenstock warehouse), with its signature hyperbolic paraboloid roof.  “I was young then,”  he said with a laugh. 

The Birkenstock Building, a Modernist 135,000 square-foot hyperbolic paraboloid

Other projects include the PT&T Building in Oakland, Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, the Valley Bank office building in Reno, remodel of the Rincon Post Office Heritage Building in San Francisco and a range of multi-story, ductile concrete moment frame office buildings and steel buildings in the city, San Jose and across California.

Helen Crane Desai, who also earned her graduate degree at Cal, taught art history at the College of San Mateo, San Francisco State University, and UC Extension.  She has served as a docent at the SF Asian Art Museum for 40 years; Raj too is a docent there as well as at the city’s two other Fine Arts museums.   Together they are active board members of the California Institute of integral Studies, and both are devoted leaders and members of a wide range of Indian-American and Asian-American arts and cultural organizations, as well as with several environmental and civil liberties organizations.  The Desais have three children and seven grandchildren, who share a multi-generation tradition of attending the University of California.

The SEAOC Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that funds research and serves as a conduit for the scholarship programs of SEAONC, SEAOC, and SEAOSC.  Donations can be directed to the Foundation for research or to fund scholarships, either at the statewide level or for direction by the local Member Organization.   Current directors include Chair Dreyer (SEAONC), Vice Chair Jeff Haight (SEAOSC), Treasurer John Weninger (SEAOCC), Mike West (SEAOSD), Michael Cochran (at large), and SEAOC President Ryan Kersting and Executive Director Don Schinske (ex-officio).  

Next issue:  Led by John Coil (SEAOSC), the SEAOC College of Fellows is launching a College of Fellows of Scholarship program through the Foundation to benefit graduate engineering students –- another very exciting development. 

-- Don Schinske, SEAOC Executive Director

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