John Vetter of Vetter Architects is responsible for some of the great buildings you see in downtown Milwaukee!
Vetter talked about his decades-long career with Libby Collins on WTMJ Conversations.
Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: You’ve stayed here in the greater Milwaukee area for your entire career. You grew up here, but you never went anyplace else, why? Why did you stay here?
JOHN VETTER: I know sometimes my wife says that wasn’t the smartest thing because our work would probably be more accepted in other areas, but, you know, it’s important to me. I love Milwaukee. I’ve had the — I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to travel to many parts around the world and that’s — other than other architects or other artists or other people of inspiration, I think traveling, universally has been the biggest influence to myself personally and also how that translates into our work.
Just understanding world view, different cultures, how different climates can be, you know, that’s been very important. But, with that being said, I just have a spot in my heart for Milwaukee. I have been here — I think it’s the community. My family has been here, so I’m very fortunate that we have pretty deep roots here and that’s meant the world to me. And I’d rather work in an area where — and do the best I can and change people’s lives where it’s a little closer to home.
LIBBY COLLINS: When you fly into Mitchell or you drive up from Chicago and you see the City of Milwaukee and you see what the vista is, what stands out to you? What is it that you look at and you say, “I really love that part of the city”? And I’m asking you from an architectural standpoint.
JOHN VETTER: Yeah, and I’m going to answer it non-architecturally, but honestly, it’s the lake. It’s Lake Michigan.
LIBBY COLLINS: Do we utilize the lake enough —
JOHN VETTER: I don’t think —
LIBBY COLLINS: — when we build?
JOHN VETTER: I don’t think we do. You know, it’s funny, I think the lake is just such an underappreciated amenity we have in Milwaukee, and it’s phenomenal, I mean, it’s incredible. It’s one of the largest freshwater bodies of water in the world. And at a time when, you know, there’s a lot of talk of climate change and water shortages — I was just in the southwest recently and it’s all — it’s what everyone’s talking about, is just water shortages. So, we’re really blessed here. I think we have a great amenity and it’s gorgeous to have an inland lake that feels like an ocean or a sea — is really remarkable. So, I think that’s one of the things that I notice right away that other cities don’t have as much, other than some coastal cities. So, it’s a really cool amenity that kind of, in my mind, transcends the architecture.
It’s funny, you know, there’s people that live either in the city or in the outlying areas, and I talk about Lake Michigan and sometimes they look at me like, yeah, you know, they haven’t even seen it in half a year, you know. And it’s like, you know, this is such a great amenity that we have and that we just, I think, sometimes overlook.
So, there’s some great things we do with our lake and our waterfront for sure, and I think the awareness continues to build, but it’s a really cool amenity that we have living in Milwaukee that — you know, when you really understand it is when you have someone that’s never been to Milwaukee come to visit you, which we just had last week. We had a friend of ours from Seattle, never been to Milwaukee, and, I mean, he just was completely enthralled and just taken over by the beauty of Lake Michigan. And he said, “I’d never envisioned that it would look like an ocean. I just didn’t think it would be like that.”
LIBBY COLLINS: How does Milwaukee, in your opinion, compare with other cities as far as what’s happening downtown, structurally, in terms of the buildings and what’s being built and what they’re remodeling and what they’re keeping? How do you compare that with other areas of the country?
JOHN VETTER: I love Milwaukee because it — I do like the fact that it’s a bit of — it’s underestimated, and it’s a bit of a well-kept secret to some extent, which I think living here is something you like. I think it’s a second-tier city, probably for a while it will remain a second-tier city, and I don’t think that’s bad. I think there’s a charm to that, and I think that’s what makes it as unique as it is.
There’s an ease of quality of life in Milwaukee that I think is really fantastic for a city of our size and amenity and art scene. It’s pretty good. You know, and I — there’s groups and factions of interesting artists and architects working in Milwaukee that are doing some cool things. You know, we have our challenges with — like every other city, we have a long way to go on many, many fronts. That’s a whole other interview, but what I think is nice about Milwaukee is, we haven’t just completely removed all our older housing stock like other cities have. You know, we, thankfully, you know, at a time when urban renewal meant removing everything and building new, it wasn’t really happening in Milwaukee. It kind of bypassed Milwaukee in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So, we really retained a lot of really beautiful buildings, and I think now we have a higher value of those. So, Milwaukee has a unique quality that it has older buildings that are now being reused and being brought back to life, so that adds to this character that we have here. I just think it’s a beautiful second-tier city that has so much to offer and a great easy lifestyle with some pretty cool, innovative, interesting people that work here that would rival the larger cities with a smalltown feel and a smalltown environment.