Headshot of Alyse Li

Founding principal of RAAW Design Group, ALLYSE Y. LI, RID, LEED AP, is the vision behind the Vancouver based interior design and residential development firm. Since 2016, LI has successfully led over a hundred interior projects ranging from residential to commercial, multifamily to hospitality. Her expertise in interior architecture and urban land economics, met with unparalleled design leadership and sensitivity towards feasibility, render every RAAW project awe-inspiring and distinct.

Extended from practice, LI’s multidisciplinary background drew her to explore themes in urbanism with an interior-centric approach, focusing on affordable, financially/environmentally sustainable and resilient built forms across the residential development landscape. Her research interests concern transitional and incremental urban densification with attributions to interiority, formal-hybridity, and mixed-use housing typologies. Through both practical and speculative approaches, LI aims to bridge gaps between industry and academe.

Allyse Li

We recently caught up with Allyse after she completed The Walkable City to learn about her experience in the program, and other programs she had taken with us.

You’ve now come to Cambridge two years in a row to take programs with us (2022 – Integrated Project Management, and 2023 – The Walkable City). Why did you decide to return?

Executive education programs are ideal for me as a practitioner. As RID (Registered Interior Designer) certified in North America under the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification), I often choose the GSD executive education programs for contributing towards the CEU (continuing education units) of my professional designation. The IDCEC (International Design Continuing Education Council) also recognizes AIA LUs as options for fulfilling certain CEU requirements. For what the GSD offers in its programs, there are greater breadth, and more design oriented knowledge gained than a typical event or even conference. The on campus experience also allows for connections, and provides opportunities for thoughts and development of my academic endeavors in the design discipline while engaged in the industry. Although GSD programs are rigorous and requires a certain degree of industry knowledge coming into them, the connections and inspirations gained from these programs are indispensable for working and leading professionals.

Your bio specifically cites integrated project management as a differentiating factor in your designs. How has the Integrated Project Management program you took in 2022 impacted your work over the last year?

Tony (Anthony)’s use of case studies and examples, drawing from his work with institutional and high-end residential projects resonated with me greatly, especially because I engage with both the design side of projects, and with the execution side. Andreas’ approach to theorizing with practical analysis of the design process (ie, from SD to DD, onto CD stages and beyond), together with Tony’s IGMP approach to project management, coincided so precisely with my process, that it mirrored my practice, giving a stronger more critical understanding to enhance my own methodology. And this methodology of project execution is scalable, not limited to geography or project size. From boutique to institutional, hospitality to private residential sectors, one can apply this to projects of different scales, from US to across the world.

Walkable City is one of the most-read books among urbanists. Please discuss how taking The Walkable City program impacted your understanding of the key concepts presented in the book.

Jeff is an inspiration. His writing is brought to life with this session, and the level of engagement with him, as a person and not just as an author is beyond inspirational. Some discussions lead to further inquisitive re-approach to my own work, study and research moving forward. Jeff shared his background as a Harvard GSD graduate in architecture, anecdotes, and a great number of case studies which grows each year. As I shared with him my background and aspirations, he offered invaluable mentoring comments. Walking through parts of Cambridge and Boston with Jeff and hearing his impromptu real-life ‘footnotes’ on city by design, urban transformations and opportunities for betterment here and there is perhaps one of the best professional development a graduate school urban design candidate, and a design practitioner can imagine. 

You can’t save Main St. shopping corridors with good or better interior design interventions, but urban design can: and curating the useful walk is key.  From the book and the classroom, we know that top-down planning is used to revitalize or remake a place. Yet top/down or bottom/up, I still believe that there is a missing piece here: and that is Interiors. Design across scale, with an interior centric approach is my focus in both professional undertakings and in academic pursuits. How to re-think and re-size more affordable, livable and buildable homes for everyday people; How to re-shape and re-design healthier, happier and more resilient urban places: to better respond to climate change by perhaps restoring an energy equilibrium as a population. These are design questions at every scale, and my personal aspiration is to research this missing piece at an interiors scale, in my current and future studies. 

The GSD offers profound professional development opportunities, but more importantly, gives rise to many levels of inspirations during challenging times like the pandemic. A decade ago, I chose to study design to change my world. Now, growing alongside my firm, there has never been more clarity in knowing that my multidisciplinary design background is tasked for driving changes in the world, at whichever scale.