Harry John Carlson graduated from MIT in 1892. He studied art in Paris before joining the New York offices of Cass Gilbert and McKim, Mead, and White. With fellow MIT student Joseph Randolph Coolidge, he formed the architectural firm Coolidge and Carlson. He was secretary of the Boston Society of Architects, served on committees of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and was president of the MIT Alumni Association from 1921 to 1923.
Coolidge and Carlson designed a number of buildings for MIT, including Sloan Laboratories, the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, Building 12, Eastman Laboratories, and the East Campus Alumni Houses. Other buildings include the Chapel at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine; an addition to Hyde School, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts; Coes & Young shoe store, in Harvard Square; and Stoneham Public Library, Massachusetts.