After two decades of breakneck growth, the world's largest coffee shop, Starbucks, stumbled in 2007. Company shares fell by 42 percent, and Howard Schultz, the former CEO, lamented that Starbucks had overextended itself and the stores “no longer have the soul of the past.”

With Schultz now back at the helm, Starbucks is rethinking its entire strategy. One proposed change among many: a new design for its 15,000 stores, set to roll out in 2009.

We asked five teams of architects from around the country to share their visions of the 21st century coffee shop. Starbucks has in-house designers, of course, but faced with a task of this magnitude, who wouldn't want some extra help?

COFFEE DUALITY: ART VS. FUEL designLAB - Boston - Sam Batchelor, Emily Greene, Bob Miklos, Scott Slarsky, Ben Youtz

Statement: The space of the American café emerges from the horizonless recesses of the Woolworth lunch counter, where gallons of pale brown water were slung from bulbous Pyrex urns into the proverbial “bottomless cup o' joe.” Not until the mid-1970s did the American notion of coffee begin to condense around the space of the European café—that place of communal politesse so far removed from the lunch counter. At the lunch counter, we face the wall in single file, removed from social discourse and absorbed in solitary self-reflection. In the café, we find ourselves at the table, in the round, immersed in the well-oiled social discourse that caffeine fosters.

Today's American coffeehouse chain finds itself stretched (see napkin timeline, above) as it tries to act as both counter and café. DesignLAB's exploration seeks to exploit this distinction by creating complementary brands and associated store models offering two distinct kinds of urban space.

BARbucks is a place for connoisseurship, conversation, and community. Expert baristas are performance artists and stand eye to eye with customers across a clear, uncluttered bar surface. There is no queue, ordering is catch-as-catch-can, and the majority of the beverages are consumed on premises.

AUTObucks is about efficiency, quality, and consistency. High-speed baristas, called “slingers,” stand in brew-station modules with everything they need at arm's reach and are elevated to be able to survey the bustling place with ease. Customers come in, pick a brew station, line up, input their order, and pay at a digital terminal. By the time they reach the front of the line, their orders are ready to go.

BARbucks and AUTObucks represent a dialogue about the duality of coffee: BARbucks speaks to the old-world notion of coffee as art, while AUTObucks speaks to the new-world notion of coffee as fuel.