Interview with Thomas Abraham

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Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Thomas Abraham (TA) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Thomas Abraham by clicking here.

Interview with Thomas Abraham at Saturday 21st of May 2022

FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
TA: While my design ventures extend to a myriad of fields, my primary practice is architecture and interior design. I did my Honors in Architecture from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. In my country, I am among the few who have risen to the top of my field, having won several national as well as international acclaims for my work. Since my childhood, I have always been interested in design. I wanted to go beyond the confines of just ordinary day knowledge. I wanted to, to use the cliché, be creative. The way I saw it, creativity is in a minor way, playing like a minor God because in all God’s facets, probably are the most important creation and we as human beings are giving creativity as a skill and not everybody has that skill to be able to emulate God himself.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
TA: I am based in Bangalore, India where I create designs that embraces sustainability, recycling, lower carbon footprints and social consciousness. I have been featured numerous times on the press for my Environment first design policies and have received over 27 awards for the same. In addition to this, I also run a successful award winning education venture – IDeA World Design School which is India’s oldest privately run design school where I educate over 9000 designers, encouraging and mentoring them to follow sustainable and socially responsible design practices.

FS: What is "design" for you?
TA: In my opinion, Design is simply about making the ordinary extra ordinary. That extra makes all the difference. What psychologists call optimal distinctiveness whereby we take the regular, not make it weird but make it excellent by adding a little extra. It’s the illusion rather than revolution that makes good design

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
TA: While I do fashion design, furniture design, interior design, architecture and art, I am particularly fond of architecture. Architecture deals with the single most important investment a person has to make in their life. And also, sometimes, even the least expensive home is too expensive for many people. So, in a way, architecture has a social responsibility to provide for even the least privileged and disadvantaged among us. While we are rightly concerned about the environment, people also matter. For most people who spend most of their time indoors, your home which includes the light, the air, the space, the crowding or the lack thereof, the plumbing, the sewage and so on are actually things that affects peoples lives including their temperaments, their moods, their personalities which in turn affects other people’s moods and personalities.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
TA: Though I have designed several projects over the years, Crystal Hall will remain very close to my heart, as it pays tribute to multiple facets of my life, both personally and professionally. It was built over a span of five years and took a lot of research, resources and planning. We also had quite a few challenges in the process but the end result was worth it. We received several awards and there was a lot of press coverage and recognition that happened. It was a revolutionary landmark in sustainable architecture. It is a matter of pride, not just for myself, but also for all the people coming from underprivileged sections of India who got to be a part of it.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
TA: It was actually furniture for my own office. We did not have much of a budget so we literally took packing wood, waste metal and it took us months to get fabricated what we had designed. We made small 1:100 models and then it went through carpenters, fabricators and it was a really great adventure, a learning curve. Looking back, some of it was actually pretty good, even though it has been a decade since we first did it. As for buildings, the first building was a renovation of a pretty rundown building but once we finished it, the architect I admire most, the person who I used to work with, said it was once of the most beautiful elevations he had ever seen.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
TA: My favorite material has to be glass which is a sustainable, fully recyclable material which provides great environmental benefits while being aesthetic at the same time. In fact, my latest architectural and interior project, The Crystal Hall used glass almost entirely. After all, Glass is among the few building materials that can be recycled indefinitely without losing quality or clarity, thus reducing the building’s carbon footprint while contributing to the aesthetic at the same time.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
TA: After midnight, when the world sleeps, my heart and my mind awakens and it is almost as if it is a time for creation as well as the rest of the world is procreating. I find it as though the heaven is in talks with you. When everything else is silent, you can listen to your inner voices. At times where there are no distractions, I am the most creative. These are times of revelation.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
TA: The way I see it, the most important aspect of a design is the impact it has in creating a better world. In fact, that is my whole design philosophy – to design a better world. As a designer, my focus right from the beginning is to ensure that my design is socially responsible, sustainable and something that contributes to being a landmark in the field of design.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
TA: This is a cliché but it is almost like giving birth. It actually feels like you are bringing to life, a new person, a new being. As an architect, specifically, you actually feel like you are changing the face of the earth as though what you design will forever change that spot on the face of the planet. You feel as if you are contributing to eudemonia - human fulfillment. A piece of building impacts lives. It is both humbling and triumphant that you can actually impact lives.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
TA: Designing is a long and tedious journey but it is always a worthwhile one. It is probably one of the best feeling in the world, to create and watch your ideas come to life and to be able to share it with others. I remember feeling so honored, so happy and yet so humble when the Crystal Hall won the Bronze A’design award. In fact, this was an award that I was looking forward to even during the time The Crystal Hall was not entirely completed. I feel blessed . It is a very rewarding feeling.

FS: What makes a design successful?
TA: It is almost impossible to assess a design based on a single factor. Several factors go into the making of a successful design. For me, a successful design is something that is original, innovative and fulfils its purpose while at the same time contributing to the good of man and nature.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
TA: Judging whether a design is good or bad is highly subjective. But for me, the first thing I consider is if the design fulfils the purpose. It is very important for anything that is designed or created to be honest to its purpose. After this, I consider other factors like its innovation, its authenticity, how it contributes to the society and the environment and so on.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
TA: In addition to bringing about a change in culturally dominant worldviews and setting a mark for more sustainable eco friendly products and practices, it is important that a designer should focus on green design practices. It is not just a professional contribution but more a duty that plays a part in positive development of the community that we dwell in. And there are so many ways to contribute to the society and the environment. Methods that I commonly use are zero wastage, recycling material, replenishing and restoring nature rather than ruining it, conscious material and labour choices and employing underprivileged people.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
TA: The design field further has several fields that it comprises of. Some are evolving faster than others. Others like architecture are transitioning at a much slower pace. I do think Artificial intelligence will come in much more, probably become much more of an endemic use for instance how today it’s CAD drawings and of course there’s no doubt that there are things already being incorporated which is sustainability, low wastage, environmental friendly, minimal impact on the climate, minimal impact on the planet, maximal impact that is socially responsible architecture. But then again, very often what we foresee for the future is not what will happen for us. Often the future will blindside us in a direction that we won’t be looking at.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
TA: My last exhibition was at the Architectural Digest Design Show 2019 where I exhibited my work alongside several famous Indian celebrity designers including Gauri Khan, Natasha Poonawalla, Rekha, Farhan Akhtar and Manish Malhotra. This was for my furniture collection – The Transformer Collection. I did have quite a few exhibitions lined up but due to the pandemic situation, especially in India, a lot of events were completely cancelled or postponed. So, I am eagerly waiting for my exhibition at "MOOD" at Museo del Design, Via Bellinzona 15, Como, Italy this July.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
TA: I get most of my design inspiration from my travels. I am particularly fond of traveling and so every time I go to a new place and see something that fascinates me, I click a picture of it or I stand and look at it and imbibe it into my long term memory. And then later on, when I have to design a new building, I recall such designs that caught my attention. I analyse it for both the good and the bad and imbibe and implement the good.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
TA: I live in India, a country that is rich in artistic glory. Most design in India is affected by its history, culture, and at times, even religion. My own work, The Crystal Hall has been drawn inspiration from several cultural factors of my country as well as the local surroundings. It took its themes from the place it is in Angalapura (place of verandas). As homage to the local culture, the Crystal Hall uses verandas extensively, except that its verandas are enveloped by glass colonnades, rather than the wood or stone. It’s also flanked by two towers that draw inspiration from the Taj Mahal’s symmetrical minarets as well as from the brick kiln towers that provide India’s primary building material. We have used stepped wells leading to the water body, inspired by those in India’s temple tanks, and like Hindu temples, raised our buildings on pedestals that provide protection from monsoon rains, as well as give gravitas to the architecture. The pros for a designer living in India are obviously the lower cost of resources and labor which makes a design cost effective. In addition to this, there are several innovative designs like the Taj Mahal or the temples in India that serve as an inspiration. However, a major con is how the field of design is slowly being pushed to the back with other fields related to science and technology coming to the forefront.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
TA: It is important for companies to hire a designer after doing their homework about them. Check references, their previous work and have a conversation with them to make sure both of you are on the same page. Make sure their area of expertise matches exactly what you are looking for. Again, there are several factors that affect this as well including how involved the company needs to be, how big the budget and how the project is.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
TA: I’m not trying to be presumptuous here but I don’t make drawings initially. I go to the site, talk to the client, imbibe the essence and the air and the ambience of the site and then understanding what the client wants to do and keeping in mind my personal philosophy in design which is form follows function follows feeling. Feeling is very important. In modern architecture I think we have forgotten the feeling aspect. Feeling comes first, function next and form last. And for the conjunction of form and feeling, not a machine for living but a home for living is made. Once the design brief is given to me, I start designing it in my head. The advantage of not committing it to paper is that what we draw we fall in love with. And if I love it, I think it is right, I made it. Nevertheless if it is in my mind, if it is abstract, the advantage is I can erase it, restructure it, reform it in my mind and so I do that and once that is done I make sketches to which I usually show the client. Recently, I started marking live size 3D Structures to ensure that the client can grasp how the project will look accurately. Later on, the material that is used in making these structures is recycled at the time of construction.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
TA: If you define design as form that has purpose, beauty and even though I did not design it, it will be my wife. She is my inspiration as well as my bedrock. One might think this is too abstract a definition of design, but no, I think it is a very material definition, for the word matter is the same word as “Mother”. So I think all womankind for that matter is the core of every matter that we see around us because right from the start they are life bearers. As for the other things designed by mortal creatures, among the things that I find fascinating is then my red Jaguar. It’s not in my living room but it’s certainly in my home. Third, I would say my telescope. Fourth, my small blue ceramic urn that I bought from Tiberius in Israel, then also the interiors of my entire bedroom where in the small room I managed to fit in the master bed, wardrobes, study table, dressing, the works. In fact, I am proud that I could choose them with such refined taste

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
TA: If you define a day as past midnight, I could say that it is probably the happiest times of my day from midnight to probably 3’o clock in the morning when I am at the computer writing stuff, designing stuff, doing stuff that makes me feel fulfilled. And then I go off to sleep by around 4’o clock in the morning just around the crack of dawn when other people are probably awakening and the rooster is beginning to crow. Then I wake up at around 10 o clock in the morning and then I say my morning prayers. I go to church, I visit the poor, sits with them, provide them with something to eat while I have a cup of coffee myself and then I spend the next two hours delegating work and monitoring the progress that has happened the day before that. And then I am off either to site or to office, doing the necessary stuff, not the stuff that I enjoy the most but the stuff that is essential for the progress of the organization. Lunch is often a working lunch. And then I come back home to my wife who opens the door with a smile and then we lay in each other’s arms and we talk, cuddle, watch movies, make love and then when she goes off to sleep, I get off my bed. It is almost midnight and the clock starts again.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
TA: One thing that is my suggestion for every designer is to stay forever young. Remember that as somebody said, this is the first day of your life as well as this could be your last. So, the day is simultaneously a day of potential and hope as well as a day when you have so much to achieve and so little time to do it. Approach everything that you do as if you are a master and everything that you do is a masterpiece. You may not always achieve it but when you go to bed, you are comforted that you are on your way. Never settle. Always reach up. Always seek to be the finest version of yourself because as Aristotle said - “An apple is nothing but the potentiality of an apple tree”. When you see an apple we should be able to visualize an apple tree. I think every designer puts from pen to paper, shows the potentiality of Michelangelo or Da Vinci or a Rafael.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
TA: The best thing about being a designer is to be able to create. I wanted to go beyond the confines of just the ordinary and the mundane. The way I see it, creativity is, in a minor way, almost like playing a minor God because in all God’s facets, one of the most important is creation. When we as humans create something using our skills, it is a wonderful thing because not everybody has that skill to be able to emulate God himself. So according to me, next to procreation, Creation especially in the arts and the sciences is important. However, a major downside to being a designer is how highly competitive the field is. The market is tough for newcomers and I am not talking about just the market but also the industry which gives preference only to established designers. This prevents a lot of new designers especially those from third countries from coming up because the limelight is rarely if ever, given to them.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
TA: Start every design with a philosophy, pull every philosophy to the feeling and let every feeling be lead by its function and let the function give birth to the form. In other words, form follows function follows feeling follows philosophy. By this definition, you have encompassed every aspect of the human experience - the mind, the heart, the body and therefore the psyche.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
TA: Precision, Passion, Problem solving and Patience are key skills that every designer must have in addition to being creative and innovative. It is also important to employ good sustainable design practices and keep up with the constantly evolving industry. It is an ever learning field and so one must be prepared to always research, to always learn and to be able to take criticism.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
TA: Memory and imagination. I don’t think anything could be a substitute for that. Memories are things that you have seen or read about in real life or another work apart and imagination is that little extra that makes the ordinary - extraordinary. The way I see it, every revolution is in fact an evolution. One mutation added to an existing object and then an entirely different new species. In one leap, you can call it the Cambrian Era. You could have a million different ideas coming from what could look like improbable ancestors.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
TA: I find designing incredibly time consuming because in a peculiar way I design, I do not touch pencil to paper or mouse to pad until the entire building, I can visualize it in my mental eye. It can be exasperating for the clients because until the umpteenth hour, they can see nothing but I can see everything. And I find this extremely time consuming but also extremely versatile and flexible because I noticed, once you commit a design to pen and paper, you fall in love with it and you become obdurate about it, but once it is in your mind you can easily erase, easily alter, easily mutate which means you are far more amendable to changing it, altering it, amending it and bettering it. And finally it can takes some weeks or hours but finally when you commit to a paper, you have a full fledged living person that’s a building.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
TA: Again, it depends on the object that is being designed as well as the need that it presents. The time frame can go from several months to even several years. My latest architectural and interior design project, The Crystal Hall took over five years for completion. This was primarily because the building was designed to incorporate several never seen before factors in its making and great attention was paid to every single detail to perfect the work. Moreover, the client was relaxed in terms of deadlines as long as the place turned out to be a landmark, which it eventually turned out to be, winning more than 15 awards in less than 2 years after its release and also being featured numerous times on the press. So, it is mainly based on the design and also on the deadline that the client has set.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
TA: How do you come up with this? And the problem is that I really do not know. All I can say is probably the analogy of Archimedes. A million men before Archimedes would have probably have gotten into a bathtub but it took the open mind of Archimedes and the revelation into him to put two and two together and get five. To understand that when he got into the bathtub and the water displaced, the weight of the water displaced was equal to his own body weight.. I think every designer should be open to revelation because it is always the closeness of the mind and the heart that prevents revelation and Revelation could be the inner voice, it will be the abstract thinking, defined patterns and associations between what are assumingly unrelated objects.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
TA: It would be immensely tough to choose. Every single thing that I designed has contributed in small and big ways to my professional as well as my personal life, Everything was a learning experience, not just for me but for everyone who contributed in their own way. But if I had to choose, I would say it is the time when I designed all the 30 finalists of Miss India 2018. It was an experience of a lifetime, being able to create something that would contribute to women empowerment, enabling them to look and feel the best versions of themselves.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
TA: I have a series of creative pursuits specifically literature, art and design. My next architectural project, Eden Garden is being designed on a full fledged island in one of the most picturesque places on the planet.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
TA: I have a series of creative pursuits specifically literature, art and design. I would currently like to talk about my next architectural project, Eden Garden which is being designed on a full fledged island in one of the most picturesque places on the planet. While It follows my signature of sustainability, history, class and nature, it has the paradox of being an incredible modern building and yet fitting perfectly into its lateral surroundings. At first seen, an oxymoron, modernity and naturalism, technology and the planet and yet I think with the Eden Garden, I will be able to design an ethereally beautiful building in an ethereal site which undoubtedly inspired the former.

FS: How can people contact you?
TA: You can follow me on Instagram. My username is thomasabrahamofficial or you can drop in an email at

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
TA: An architect with an Honors from IIT, Kharagpur (among India’s premier educational institutions), My work extends across the creative fields of fashion, furniture, interiors, architecture, art and writing. My work is grounded in social and environmental consciousness, embracing sustainability, recycling, low carbon footprints and employing poor indigenous people of color. In addition to this, I also run two successful award winning education ventures – IDeA World Design School, which is India’s oldest privately run design school and has also won the award for Best Design Education at the Business Times Awards and Giraffe Learning where I am an the Founder- Chancellor and have mentored over 45,000 students. I also instituted IIT Kharagpur’s first peer to peer award, The April Ann Prize for the Highest Achievement in Creative Enterprise which celebrated its 25th anniversary recently. In the future, I hope to educate others about the importance of environmentally and socially conscious design practices while hopefully creating many more innovative landmarks like the Crystal Hall.

FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

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