Barbara Heinzen, PhD
About these rooms
IconShort biography
IconProfessional history
IconClients since 1985
IconAbout these rooms
Home > Biography > About these rooms


Two rooms in the Inns of Court Two rooms in the Inns of Court

Two rooms in the Inns of Court

Although I now live in upstate New York, between 1998 and 2011, my office was in these rooms in Central London.  I used the rooms as a place to welcome people and as a place where we could think through hard problems.  I was -- and still am -- especially interested in anticipating future developments over long periods of time. My assignments usually concern societies making great systemic changes: from agricultural to industrial systems, from communist to market rules, from industrial to ecological principles. Such changes do not happen quickly; they take decades, even centuries to evolve.

These two rooms are in one of the Inns of Court and were built in the 17th century, long before the industrial revolution began. The Inns of Court are societies of legal learning dating back to the 13th century and they are the home of the English Bar. When the Inns began, England was an oral society and an agricultural society. In the following centuries, laws and customs evolved to create the foundations for the industrial revolution, with the English Bar acting as an important link between customary practices and new necessities. The dining hall, visible through the window, is where young barristers are expected to dine. This dining tradition is a legacy of oral society where people listened to their more experienced colleagues in order to learn.

Today, many pressures – population, migration, globalisation, climate change and environmental health – are forcing us to redefine the rules and goals of our businesses, organisations and societies. These are long term tasks and highly political. Inevitably, our most deeply held assumptions will be tested and challenged. We will learn to think over decades, centuries and millennia, while also learning what imaginative responses will respect necessity, continuity and change.

When I moved my office to these rooms in 1998, I wanted them to be a place where such learning could occur. I sought to evoke the imaginative energy of the late 17th century, while creating an atmosphere that was safe, peaceful and open to the future. I wanted to demonstrate the history of our own changes and how they are connected to geographies and peoples around the world. I hoped to offer a welcome to all and a quiet place to engage with what is difficult and strange.

A story of energy and trees

A story of energy and trees

One story in this picture is a story of energy and trees. The story of trees was uncovered when the rooms were renovated in 1998. As the workmen removed old plasterboard and dirty carpets, they found two fireplaces, wide wooden floorboards, and some of the original wood panelling on the walls. The panelling was a form of 17th century insulation that went out of fashion soon after these rooms were built. Fashions changed when wood became scarce and expensive; it is likely that the panelling and floorboards in this room was made from Scandinavian, not English, timber.

There are two fireplaces, one in each room. Both fireplaces are designed to burn coal, which was first used in London in the 13th century to burn lime for plaster. The size of these fireplaces is tiny compared to the wood-burning fireplaces of North America. Not only was fuel in London very expensive, but coal fires need a different chimney design. Today, the fire in the grate is gas. There are also electric heaters in the room for the coldest weather. The yellow lamps were originally lit with gas, but now use electricity. Candles would have been used when the rooms were first built and just linger here for show.

The clock on the wall represents another form of energy. This is a Post Office clock with one mechanism and two faces, one in each room. It was built about 1900 and is wound up once a week. This clock is part of the mechanical revolution of the industrial world, powered by human hand and mechanical genius.

The story of trees and the story of energy are intertwined. The English industrial revolution took off in the mid-18th century when the cost of smelting iron with wood charcoal became higher than the cost of using clean coked coal. Once this price signal changed, coked coal became the primary fossil fuel of industrialisation.

A story of trade, empire and evolving relationships A story of trade, empire and evolving relationships A story of trade, empire and evolving relationships

A story of trade, empire and evolving relationships

There is also a story of trade, empire and new relationships here. The blue and white tiles around the fireplace are old Delft tiles from Holland. Such tiles were popular in the 17th century and imitate Chinese styles brought to Europe in the first years of expanding European trade with the wider world. They are some of the earliest reminders of how global trade allowed distant cultures to influence each other. As trade gave way to empire, unequal relationships replaced the more neutral diversity of simple exchange. This inequality can still infect treaties, trade and ordinary human conversation.

One of the first meetings held in these rooms took place in front of this fireplace where three of us began developing a different kind of relationship. I was meeting with two Kenyans, Arthur Muliro and Betty Maina, who had hired me to help them design a scenarios project on the future of Kenya. During this project, I facilitated the major workshops, but otherwise had no voice. This project produced four stories of possible futures in Kenya, as well as an important research compendium, all written by Kenyans. The Kenyan work became the model for similar projects in Tanzania and Uganda.

The drum was given to me by the Ugandan team. James Magode taught several of us some of the simple messages communicated with drums. When the Ugandan scenarios were finally launched in July 2004, Magode paid me one of the highest compliments of my career. He began by referring to his initial suspicions of me as a white woman and reminded the audience of the ‘conditionalities’ often imposed by the World Bank and others. “I must say,” Magode then went on, “that throughout our experience we did not experience a single, a single, conditionality from the person of Barbara.”

A story of spirits and clocks A story of spirits and clocks A story of spirits and clocks

A story of spirits and clocks

The mask on the mantle was carved for either Makonde or Makua people in Southern Tanzania. Soon after the mask came into these rooms, the Post Office clock began to fail, as if the spirit of the mask were quarrelling with the mechanical logic of the clock. Eventually the mask’s position in the room was changed and the clock was repaired. Now it keeps good time.

The Post Office clock represents the change in attitudes to time and social organisation that came with the industrial revolution. As complex activities needed to be coordinated, people needed to agree on when things would happen and when the agreed hour had arrived. Bell towers, clocks and watches helped us to do that. The Post Office clock is a particularly good example of coordination because it has two faces and one mechanism. Not only was the Post Office itself part of the ‘communications revolution’ of the 19th century, but its two faces allowed both workers behind the counter and customers coming to the counter to know the same time. Today, this clock shows the hour in both of these rooms.

Agrarian time, represented by the mask, is different. Agrarian time follows the timing of the seasons, the hours of daylight and darkness, the rituals that celebrate each stage of a person’s life and each stage of the year. This is a different kind of time, linking past, present and future in complex living relationships, interlocking and interdependent. The spirit world of the mask communicates to the human world through the ancestors, so that past and present function together.

A story of knowledge: literate & oral

A story of knowledge: literate & oral

I don’t know what power, if any, the mask has, but I will not dismiss the possibility of its power just yet. This photograph, “The story of knowledge”, was taken while working on Chapter 7 of Feeling for Stones. I wanted to understand who had the voice of nature in pre-colonial African society. I put these Tanzanian carvings on my desk as I explored the possibility that the spirit world, represented by chiefs and spirit advisors, were the political guardians of the natural world.

The tall carving on the left represents the spirit of wild animals; the one on the right is an ujamaa, representing a village and the connections people have to each other. The mask may be the face of an ancestor, one of those who connected mankind with the spirit world.

The smallest figure on the desk is a kibwengo, carved by Joseph Nyunga, a Makonde artist based in Dar es Salaam. The kibwengo is a mischievous coastal spirit only visible to some people. When we interviewed Joseph during the Tanzanian work he asked a question I have never forgotten, “Why is there no university of Tanzanian knowledge?” This kibwengo, the mask and the other carvings are reminders not to forget the value of African knowledge or its interlocking concept of time.

Joseph Nyunga’s question reflects one of the sterile legacies of conquest and empire: the assumption that the knowledge of conquering peoples is more important than the knowledge of the conquered. This assumption is no longer valid – if it ever was. However, the ability to respect once-conquered knowledge is something we are still struggling to learn. The photograph of carvings and books shows both forms of knowledge – the literate knowledge of books and the knowledge of oral societies, represented here in the carvings from Tanzania.

An icon connecting past and future, oral and literate An icon connecting past and future, oral and literate

An icon connecting past and future, oral and literate

After moving in, I had many different assignments in many different parts of world. Throughout, these rooms have remained calm and still, while the society of the Inn has continued its own work around me. The Inns of Court and the English Bar are institutions which have survived over long periods of time, contributing to society’s changes and to its stability. Members of the Bar have worked with oral and literate knowledge and learned from both. As an icon of my own work and of what we need to do now, these rooms in this place are as good as anything I could imagine.

In 2011, however, I made a major change.  After spending several years working on the start up of the Barbets Duet, I decided I needed to create my own learning site.  That is where I am living now, on the banks of the Hudson River in upstate New York.  You can read more about the Barbets Duet on this website or at

? Barbara Heinzen, 2012. All rights reserved.