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BETWIXT AND BETWEEN

Café Beaubourg’s indisputable victory over Café Costes—once the ne plus ultra of the ultra-now, today a Naf Naf boutique—constitutes a Parisian cautionary tale of contemporary architecture. A decade ago, in the environs of the Centre Pompidou, Philippe Starck’s Café Costes is what you “discussed”; Christian de Portzamparc’s Café Beaubourg was where you went. The consensus then, as now, favors such outmoded values as comfort, calm, and civility. Countering Starck’s insolent playfulness, Portzamparc had cannily displaced a tried-and-true model: salon-style seating in two column-protected aisles and gallery above, main drag down the nave, entrance on the transverse—a Via Veneto nestled and hushed in a sleek, soundproof cathedral. Conversation was possible, even concentration. That this concentration could be amplified a hundred-fold by the same architect within the imposing ellipsoid proportions

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