Walk on Water celebrates 25th anniversary

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

In 1989, College of Architecture + the Arts Professor Jaime Canaves challenged his students to walk on water as a part of his Materials & Methods of Construction class.

They thought he was joking at first, Canaves recalls. But he was serious, and his 30 students created shoes that would not only allow them to float, but walk across the 175-foot lake behind the Green Library.  

Due to insurance and liability issues, the students could not test the shoes on the lake themselves – so it was Canaves walking on water for them that first year. Over the next few years, Canaves kept the event alive by hosting it at a lake next to his home until those insurance issues were finally resolved and the event returned to FIU for good in 1993.

Thanks to Canaves’s perseverance and vision, Walk on Water celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 30. It’s now an annual tradition and rite of passage for architecture students at FIU – a testament to the creativity and innovation of the university’s students.

“Walk on Water shows that learning can be exciting and it can be fun,” Canaves said. “What I like the most is the challenge involved. It builds character. After you’ve walked on water, what can you be afraid of?”

This year, a high school sophomore made it all the way to the finish line first.

Anibal Herrera, who attends Coral Gables Senior High, walked across the lake in one minute and 41 seconds. He helped his sister, Meissel, and Sarah-Jane Wiener – both sophomore architecture majors at FIU who designed the shoes for Canaves’s class – receive $500 in scholarships an “A” in the class.

Everyone else who successfully completed the seemingly impossible task also receives an “A” and a chance to drop their lowest grade.

“You get to create something, call it your own and see it work,” Meissel said. “Just making something that made it to the finish line is the best feeling.”

Since its inception, approximately 1,800 students have taken part in Walk on Water competition. The challenge helps students learn many of the important aspects and techniques that come with architecture and design.

“Think about the complexity of designing a building – the foundation, the wind resistance, the balance, connections that support the stress. All of that comes into play in this project. The only difference is that buildings do not walk,” Canaves said.

Canaves is excited about the future of the event, hoping to invite students from universities all over the world to participate in Walk on Water, turning an annual tradition into an international affair.

“That is the dream,” Canaves said.