Gary Johnson
President, CambridgeSeven

Age: 65
Industry experience: 42 years 


CambridgeSeven are collaborating architects on the newest standout on the Boston skyline and New England’s tallest residential building, the 61-story Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences at 1 Dalton St. in Back Bay. The Cambridge-based architectural firm previously worked with developer Carpenter & Co. on projects including the Liberty Hotel and 30 Dalton before taking on the assignment for the Four Seasons, which will contain 215 hotel rooms on the lower 23 floors and 160 luxury condominiums above. Gary Johnson joined CambridgeSeven in 1978 as a model maker, working on Carpenter & Co.’s Charles Square project in his first assignment. He was named president of CambridgeSeven in January.


Q: For decades, the Back Bay skyline was defined by the Prudential and Hancock towers. How do you make One Dalton fit into the existing skyline?

A: The way we explained it to our client was, One Dalton needed to separate itself out from both the Hancock and Prudential, which are office buildings. This tower is radically different, not only its shape, but that it’s primarily a hotel with residential on the top two-thirds of the building.

The building needed to express itself as a residential building. The notion of creating these incisions vertically throughout the building that create these bay windows yet retain the triangular form was the key to the design of the project.

Q: What were the top challenges of fitting so much density on a small site?

A: It’s a very small footprint. The average floor is only 13,000 square feet gross. The site was an equilateral triangle to begin with, and part of that became Clearway Street Extension. We’ve made a triangle about as efficient as we can make anything. There’s not one square inch that went to waste. But it’s a constant challenge to make sure every element fits within the building, beautifully and securely.

Q: Was it a priority to differentiate the hotel and condo spaces?

A: They’re fully integrated in that if you’re an owner of a condo, you can come down and use the facilities in the hotel. Obviously, hotel guests don’t have that same privilege. They are designed to be somewhat separate. Even the front doors are designed so you don’t see one door from the other. The condo lobby is different from the hotel, to make sure there’s a different flavor as you walk through the door. The residential is a very small, intimately scaled lobby space right off the street.

Q: What sort of outdoor spaces do the condos have?

A: The top 12 floors have balconies. The penthouses have spectacular 600-foot terraces, one on each corner of the triangle. We don’t have a roof deck. We’re at 742 feet in the air, and the winds get pretty violent up there at certain times of the year. But the roof is completely filled with mechanical equipment and a motion-dampening device to keep the building stable in high winds. It’s called a slosh tank damper. It uses water and baffles to slow down the rate of the water moving from one side of the building to the other, which counteracts the wind. It’s sort of like the way airplane fuel tanks work. They’re baffled, so it can’t just drain from one side to the next. It’s drained in a very deliberate motion to counteract the wind. It’s about 40,000 gallons. Any tall building moves, and we were very cognizant we did not want the users to feel that.

Q: One of your next projects is the Foundry in Cambridge. What’s the vision for that property?

A: We’re just literally starting. The city owns it and they are turning it into a multi-use building and performance and art venue. It’s a wonderful concept. We’ve done two other buildings for the city of Cambridge, both youth centers. Part of our work will be to bring it back so it’s an open, light-filled space with all of these dynamic uses in it, engaging with the public.

We’re also working with Carpenter & Co. on a Four Seasons in New Orleans, a historically-documented office tower. It’s been abandoned for 10 years. Construction will start this month. It’s a 400-guest room hotel with 80 or 90 condominiums. The great thing for us it’s right at the foot of two main streets and it overlooks the Mississippi River. It’s going to have a profound effect on New Orleans and its resurgence after Hurricane Katrina.

Q: Is more consolidation coming to the architectural industry in Greater Boston?

A: You’re definitely seeing big companies like Stantec buying smaller firms or even big firms, but Boston more so than a lot of places has maintained its smaller independently owned firms like ours. We maintain our own character and we have a great business and client base. We prefer that route rather than becoming part of a big national company. It allows us to do some large projects but also we’re nimble enough to do some small interesting projects. We’re passionate about doing great projects. The scale doesn’t matter for us.


Five Favorite Urban Public Places in the U.S.: 

  1. Boston Public Garden 
  2. Millennium Park, Chicago 
  3. Union Square, San Francisco 
  4. Warehouse District, New Orleans 
  5. WaterFire on the Providence Canal, Providence 

A Passion for Projects of All Sizes

by Steve Adams time to read: 4 min