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08-31-21 | Department

Van Aken District

by MKSK

The Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, Ohio is the redevelopment of a 1950s-era shopping center at a prominent intersection. The new district was designed by landscape architecture firm MKSKAY as a mixed-use development consisting of residential, retail, and office united by a central public gathering space for the community. The central space, affectionately called the 'living room', is the centerpiece of the Van Aken District. It features a sloping lawn with a picturesque arrangement of deciduous trees. Photo by Aerial Agents
The central gathering space for the community, the 'living room' features a variety of amenities for all ages. Bright orange bistro tables and Adirondack chairs provide opportunities for dining, lounging, and taking in the atmosphere.
The most striking feature of the development is the geometric paving pattern within the central plaza. The design is inspired by early Shaker heritage and the distinctive style of Shaker weavings. This carpet-like paving pattern extends beyond the public space into tenant dining spaces, unifying the 'living room' as a central activity zone.
The Van Aken District reflects the history of Shaker Heights with walkable tree-lined streetscapes and fits into the neighborhood with a tenant mix that is largely local and regional businesses.

The Van Aken District is a vertically mixed use, transit-oriented redevelopment consisting of residential, retail, and office in the heart of Shaker Heights, Ohio. The project is the product of a long-term planning effort to transform the auto-oriented environment around the Cleveland RTA terminal and the intersection of Chagrin Boulevard and Warrensville Center Road - previously a six-point intersection that was considered for decades to be one of the most dangerous in the region. With changes to the traffic configuration and lane reductions along the two corridors, the development replaces a outdated 100,000-square-foot strip shopping center with a 7-acre vibrant, walkable 'downtown' for the Shaker Heights community.

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Planning for the Van Aken District began in 2000 with the community's Strategic Investment Plan and later with the Warrensville/Van Aken Transit-Oriented Development Plan and several transit and station studies. A unique and truly public-private partnership process between Project Developer RMS Investment Corporation, the Greater Cleveland RTA, and the City of Shaker Heights was undertaken to properly integrate the bus transit within the parking, roadway, and space requirements of the retail development. RMS worked with the city and the design team through a series of public meetings and working group sessions to arrive at a master plan and consensus on the architecture and urban design of the development. The plan included the abandonment of a portion of Van Aken Road, re-routing traffic to Warrensville Center Road into a traditional 4-point intersection, allowing two portions of the development to be knit together. The result is a cohesive district that includes local and Cleveland-born retail storefronts in a walkable, town-center environment with residential and office space above.

The concept for the new Van Aken District development goes back to the early 20th Century vision for the City of Shaker Heights, planned as a "Garden City" suburban oasis that could easily be reached by rail from downtown Cleveland. The area's natural features and vegetation were leveraged in planning the residential community with only necessary commercial amenities. The Van Aken District reflects this original concept with lush landscaping and tree lined boulevards throughout the development in a small scale, walkable neighborhood setting with a central public gathering space.

The Van Aken District is designed to fit into the storied fabric of Shaker Heights and to celebrate the long history of quality and craftmanship in the Shaker community. Traditional and familiar building materials such as dark red brick, stone, and wood are predominant in the exterior and interior of the development but are also used in ways that make the Van Aken District attractively modern and unique. The centerpiece of the development is the distinctive paving pattern in the central plaza or 'living room' that is reminiscent of a traditional Shaker weaving pattern. Within the central 'living room', the Mitchell's Ice Cream building is designed so it does not have a "back" facing onto the public spaces and presents as a welcoming glass jewel at the center of the Van Aken District. The distinctive paving pattern of the plaza extends into the Mitchell's building giving a truly indoor-outdoor experience. A subdued material palette and graphic concept is utilized in the development, giving the Van Aken District a timeless aesthetic that fits within the historic context of Shaker Heights.

MKSK provided full design services from concept design through implementation as the Landscape Architect as part of a team led by Bialosky Architects and working for RMS Corporation

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