With 375 public libraries under threat of closure, the arrival of a showpiece architecture library in Clapham's Old Town has a certain irony about it.
How did this spanking new library, part of an exciting new £80 million project, escape the axe? The main reason is that there is a public/private partnership (PPP) scheme between Lambeth council and a developer.
The library is at the centre of a project, including 200 new homes, called Clapham One. The homes will be built above the library in an audacious spiral that is being trumpeted as an innovative piece of revitalisation.
Even without Clapham One, the brainchild of developers Cathedral and United House, Clapham's Old Town was already a fast-improving patch. An original Georgian quarter between the common and the high street, Old Town missed out on the most recent round of gentrification, which focused on the leafy avenues near the common. These formed part of "Nappy Valley", so called because the newcomers were young married couples priced out of Chelsea and Fulham.
The middle-class arrivals were followed by businesses catering for their needs: nice cafés, fashionable gastropubs, gourmet food stores, galleries and fashion boutiques, which now sit alongside each other in Northcote Road.
But those who turned their back on Old Town will be showing a lively interest in Clapham One, with its landmark spiral of new apartments and homes in an adjacent gated mews. Prices will be from £320,000. The 12-storey library tower will include eight penthouses, the highest in Clapham, priced up to £1.2 million. Call 020 7939 0800, or visit claphamone.com.
The new library is due to open in spring 2012. Richard Upton, managing director of Cathedral, says the PPP business model is "perfect for the times". By agreeing to redevelop an obsolete council building - former Mary Seacole House - at no cost to the taxpayer, the developers get the chance to build private housing on and around the site.
The new wave
Clapham Old Town attracts a mixed bunch and is reminiscent of Notting Hill before the invasion of Ralph Lauren-dressed banker families. Twentysomethings like the gyms, the cinema and the Tube links, and the yummy mummies from Northcote Road are already showing an interest in the child-friendly cafés in this albeit less-polished part of town.
Grafton House, a bar and restaurant opened by a former Gordon Ramsay general manager, and Trinity, owned by celebrity chef Adam Byatt, are among several new pavement eateries surrounding the Polygon, a triangle formed by three roads.
Built in 1792, the Polygon is again the hub of the Old Town, and a plan has been mooted to transform a turning point for buses into a wider public space.
The character touches attract residents who shun high-street branding and enjoy the delightful Clapham Picture House and its arthouse films, a handsome missionary church in Grafton Square (best address in the neighbourhood), which has been converted into apartments, and the much-praised primary school in the square with its dashing modern extension.
Other patches of derelict land have already been developed and recently launched is Wingate Square, an impressive scheme of sleek Scandinavian-style architecture providing 102 flats overlooking a central piazza with commercial premises.
The restrained modern design works well against the surrounding period architecture. Crisp and contemporary interiors have bespoke Poliform kitchens, timber floors, smart wiring and underfloor heating. Two-bedroom resales cost from £470,000, and three-bedroom penthouses from £1.15 million. Call Hamptons International on 020 7498 8686.
When built in 1860, Thornton Place, on the edge of the Old Town, was one of London's grandest addresses, rivalling the mansion-lined streets of Kensington and Chelsea.
Comprising a pair of classical French-style turreted buildings overlooking the 220-acre common, each block had five individual residences with up to 12 bedrooms, spectacular 50ft-long drawing rooms and elaborate architectural detailing.
It has been restored and brought back to life as 32 apartments with period features (left). Quirky duplex penthouses have secluded roof terraces. Rentals from £700 a week. Call Cluttons on 020 7223 7574.