From power plant to office: Ambler Boiler House conversion

The shell of a 19th-century industrial plant is converted into three levels of modern office space. 

October 09, 2013 |
Located adjacent to a regional rail stop and near good roads, Ambler Boiler Hous

Like many 19th-century industrial facilities, the Ambler Boiler House long ago outlived its initial use. Built in 1897 to generate power for an asbestos plant, the structure was abandoned when the owner folded after the Depression. In the early 2000s, Summit Realty Advisors bought the site, appreciating its proximity to a rail stop—Philadelphia is 40 minutes away by train—as well as good roads and utility services.

The 2008 crash delayed plans, but three years later, construction of an office complex began. Summit used creative financing, including state and county funds, to realize this speculative project in tough economic times.

Asbestos was remediated with the help of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and state grants and loans. The endeavor required 760 man-hours of labor and the removal of 530 cubic yards of contaminated construction debris and waste. All that remained was a brick shell and steel roof trusses.


Ambler, Pa.

Building Team 
Submitting firm: Heckendorn Shiles Architects 
Owner/developer: Summit Realty Advisors 
Owner’s representative: The AT Group 
Structural engineer: Elton & Thompson 
MEP engineer: PHY Engineers 
General contractor: Domus
General Information 
Size: 48,000 sf 
Construction cost: $16 million (core and shell) 
Construction time: 2011 to August 2013 
Delivery method: Design-bid-build

The former two-story plan entailed excessive floor-to-floor heights for offices, so the Building Team, led by Heckendorn Shiles Architects, inserted structural steel and concrete slabs to create three levels. Entryways and windows, many of which had been walled up, were reopened and infilled with high-efficiency store-front glazing. An iconic 140-foot smokestack was retained, and the original monitor roof profile, now equipped with translucent composite clerestories, enhances daylighting. Loft-style office spaces are characterized by references to the past, including exposed brick and reclaimed wood. However, the infrastructure is thoroughly modern. In particular, a 54-well geothermal system makes the building economical to operate, contributing to a LEED Platinum designation.

Since it opened in August 2012, the development has attracted a mix of tenants, including Summit Realty, Clutch (a mobile app designer), and AEC firm Core States Group. DiD, a boutique healthcare marketing agency, recently completed a two-story fit-out, with an open communicating stair and a “village green” common space. Ambler Boiler House—first an economic engine, then an eyesore—is most emphatically back in business.

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