Walls have been pulled down and age barriers removed in a major style revamp of the architecture programme at the Chinese University's Chung Chi College. In a $3.5 million renovation, classrooms at the department have been demolished to make way for open studios where students of various years can exchange ideas on their projects. They are all required to work on projects with similar themes, although at different levels of complexity. The reform, launched last September, also sees a revised curriculum including thematic and cultural studies. Top professionals have been invited into the studios over the past months as adjunct lecturers or guest speakers, and fresh graduates have also been brought in as assistant studio teachers. A 'village square' - a refreshment area serving snacks and drinks - is being finished near the department office for students and staff to meet for casual chats. Department head Professor Essy Baniassad, who took up his position last September, is a driving force behind the idea of a 'vertical studio', where students of varying levels work together. 'We are advocating a new philosophy in education, trying to make the learning process similar to a real-life situation. In the real world, the less experienced work together with the experienced,' he said. 'Students can learn more from students of other years than just their peers alone.' Teachers from the department have also formed an executive committee to discuss new ideas. Professor Baniassad, formerly director of the school of architecture at Canada's Dalhousie University, is confident that students will also benefit from the presence of top architects. The department now has the same number of working architects teaching as full-time academic staff. As a result, part-timers have filled up the vacant posts in the department. The teacher-student ratio has been lowered to 1:10, compared with 1:13 beforehand. The students seem to welcome the change. Postgraduate Nelson Tam Sin-lung enjoys the open space and the ample chances for personal interactions in the open studios. 'We talk about a variety of topics with other students. Initially I thought there was little personal privacy, but now I have got to know other students well.'