Interview with Professor Chang Zhigang, the head of Big Data and Smart City Lab

from: time:

Chang Zhigang

Executive Deputy Director of the CAFA VAII, Ph.D.Supervisor, Director of Media Architecture Institute China (MAIC), Member of China Green Building Council (ChinaGBC), Executive Director of China Illuminating Energy Society, Member of China Artists Association, and a member of the Environmental Design and Art Committee of China Artists Association. He is also the chief scientist of the Smart City Joint Lab of Chinese Society for Urban Studies, a peer reviewer of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, a reviewer of the China National Arts Fund, a reviewer of the National Arts Foundation, and the vice chairman of Illuminating Engineering Society of Beijing.

Interviewee:  Chang Zhigang (Executive Deputy Director of CAFA VAII and the head of Big Data and Smart City Lab)
Interviewers: Zhang Yueyan, Luan Ning
Time: September 6, 2019
Venue: CAFA Building 7


VAII: As the Executive Deputy Director of the Visual Art Innovation Institute of CAFA, would you please give a full description of VAII, and that how the innovation is presented?

Chang Zhigang: What you’ve asked is quite a comprehensive question. To answer it involves the positioning of the VAII, about which we have been thinking ever since we started to apply for the establishment of it. Compared to science and engineering, art is relatively abstract, and it is difficult to quantify and evaluate visual arts with the standards recognized by science and engineering. In my understanding, there are two major problems. First, we are still in the process of exploring to make the definition of visual arts. Second, having adjusted the line of thinking, we shift our focus from mere output products to building a growing and sustainable platform that can produce products series. VAII makes use of its signature activities to create a series of platforms and, with labs and studios, forms a new structure. We apply the platform into achieving products and results, and the latter will also be amplified through the former to form a social influence. I believe to create a top platform in the field of visual arts is our positioning for VAII.

VAII: VAII is a special zone as well as an important functional department of CAFA. What do you think characterizes this special zone?

Chang Zhigang: The reference to the “Special Zone" is made from the Beijing Municipal Education Commission’s document on the establishment of high-tech and advanced centers, being the special zones for science and technology and elites. It is called special zone because it is to carry out mechanism innovation and to demonstrate with convincing results the rationality of the innovation. We have taken a series of reform measures, such as adopting a dual-track hiring method in terms of talent introduction and increasing the usage of symposiums in terms of decision-making mechanism with the aim of the improved management efficiency. We have also made some breakthroughs in financial aspects. Based on the mechanism innovations, we have brought in more than 80 experts. Meanwhile, we fully serve the “Double-First Class”construction of CAFA and integrate our work with its Double-First Class discipline construction.


VAII: How shall we make use of the CAFA’s academic excellence to achieve an effective transformation from the introduction of talents to the outcome achievements? And what are the specific plans for the development of VAII in the future?

Chang Zhigang: The very establishment of VAII itself is the recognition of the academic achievements, academic resources, and academic brands of CAFA. During VAII’s construction and development, both the signature activities and the labs and studios are led by CAFA’s academic leaders and depend on the resources of CAFA. It is an important aspect of the mechanism innovation to make achievements transformation effective. As the state is advocating the integration of production and teaching, it is both a national orientation and one of the main purposes for Beijing Municipal Education Commission to set up high-tech and advanced centers. Labs and studios should gradually develop their own self-reliance function so that they can continue their development without financial allocation. Labs and studios should collaborate with social resources to build platforms together. We would make combination of CAFA’s academic resources with the funds, products, and technology of enterprises as well as with the requirements of social development, while introducing social resources into our self-construction. Of course, this kind of cooperation is not without principles. VAII has its own rules and guidelines and we hope to gain a win-win situation on the premise of adhering to CAFA’s academic principles and academic quality.

Prof. Chang Zhigang gave the opening keynote speech at "2019 Smart City Eco-Lighting Technology Application Forum”

VAII: As the head of the Big Data and Smart City Lab, please talk about the team building and work plan of the Lab?

Chang Zhigang: In concerns to introducing experts, the Lab has long-term hired Prof. Martin Tomitsch and Prof. Hank Haeusler of the University of Sydney and opened design workshop courses at CAFA, conducting various exchanges in teaching and international perspectives. Previously employed experts and scholars have also been following the research and product implementation of media architecture. In addition to the software and hardware of media architecture, we also carry out research and expansion in the discipline. In-depth researches are conducted on the aspects of urban color, urban and industrial planning, and urban lighting. At the same time, we have introduced high-level cross-border talents, among whom there are Dr. Wan Biyu, the head of the Smart City Joint Lab of Chinese Society for Urban Studies and Vice-Chairman in the International Standards Organization ISO/TC268 SC1(Smart Community Infrastructure Metrics) and Prof. Cai Xinyuan, “The Thousand Talents Plan” expert, the deputy dean of School of Architecture and Urban Planning Hust and the director of Institute of Art As Science of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. The Big Data and Smart City Lab has set up a team of full spectrum both theoretic and practical.

VAII: you first proposed the concept of the media architecture being the "Third Screen"  in the new era. How do you see the development trend of the "Third Screen"?

Chang Zhigang: At the beginning, we established the theme of how to apply media architecture in the interactive light environment. Later, we developed it as “the third screen in the Internet era” and discussed it at China-Europe Forum held in Huzhou. From then on, we wanted to take the concept of the Third Screen as a development trend of future media architecture and use it as the main axis to closely link the projects studied by experts in the labs so as to form one of the new development directions. Our goal is definitely not to simply set up a few lights and night scenes in one city, but to make the city more vibrant through the “third screen of the Internet era” using the existing lighting facilities, forming an interactive environment and thus creating a new type of economic platform of night life. That will be our next research direction and subject.

VAII: Looking back at the successful holding of the MAB18 Media Architecture Biennale at CAFA last year, can you talk, from the perspective of training professionals, about how to have an effectively combination of the production, academy and research and  to realize the cooperation between university, enterprise and the local region?

Chang Zhigang: In 2018, the Big Data and Smart City Lab held the MAB18 International Media Architecture Biennale at CAFA. This is an international event with top influence in the field of media architecture. In the past two years, the Lab participated in the Digital China Expo and the Big Data Economy Expo, hoping to reposition the night lights and develop it in the areas of national urbanization, urban culture, urban business cards, and urban economy. We hope that the Lab can promote more in-depth researches through the cross-border cooperation between universities and enterprises. Now we are integrating the resources of the Lab and various institutions with the aim of facilitating cities to achieve a colorful integration of Chinese traditional culture and technology. The later application for the national key projects is also to better solve the issue of integrating technology and culture. Thus, we hope to support Chinese culture to go global, and to attract more people to love and respect our culture.

2018 International Media Architecture Biennale


Chief Editor / Dong Huiping
Text / Luan Ning
Layout Editor / Zhang Yueyan
Image and Video Source / CAFA VAII Big Data and Smart City Lab