Extraordinary Singleness of Purpose

   The best professional advice I've ever received came on a lunch hour in 1983, and it changed my life. I was in architecture school at the time, and we had a program called “Lunchline” (concocted by beloved professor Marvin Rosenman) where students would brown-bag lunch and gather around one of the original speaker phones (a big wooden contraption with protruding electronics) and have a conversation with a prominent architect. I was in my last year of school at the time, and the architect that day was Michael Graves. Late in the conversation, a freshman asked a typical freshman question: “Mr. Graves, what’s the secret of success in architecture?” I was afraid Graves would blow him off or make a fool of him, but, always the gentleman, he did not. Instead, he took him seriously, and responded with four words that changed my life: “Extraordinary singleness of purpose.”

   Had he said “great design talent,” "superb drawing ability," “wealthy parents,” “strong political connections,” or even “good looks,” I’d have been out of luck, because I had none of those. But “extraordinary singleness of purpose”... I could decide to have that!!! I could wake up every morning and choose to have extraordinary singleness of purpose, and then simply have the will to carry it out! By making the secret something we could choose rather than something we were born with, Graves empowered his listeners like nothing else he could have said.

   Years later, on New Year's Day of 2005, I believe, Andrés Duany called up and said "wanna go hang out with Michael Graves today?" Of course I did! Frank Martinez, a student of Graves many years ago and Miami architect and New Urban Guild member, picked us all up and we spent the entire day finding the latest cool stuff in Miami. Somewhere along the way, I told the story and asked Michael if by chance he might remember the conversation. His answer, in his typically humble and gentlemanly way, was "I can't imagine having said something so insightful." But he did. And it has changed so many things for me since that day.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press