The Evolution of a Rock Artisan

Phillip di Giacomo and his brother Donald formed di Giacomo, Inc. in 1964, after successfully helping a friend build a waterfall. They focused on rock construction, using both real and artificial rocks.

As an artist who uses concrete as his medium, Phillip believes that the purpose of his art is to improve people’s lives through active rock formations. He says, “We’re not trying to show a snapshot of nature; we’re trying to show a moving picture of nature.” In nature, pieces of rock (talus) fall from a larger rock formation; if the talus falls in the water and rolls downstream it is called a traction load. Form and color show where the rock broke and what the elements have done to it over time (weathering). “It’s all part of a story,” says di Giacomo. When a rock falls from a formation it may fall at an affecting tilt; reproducing this look must be done in a manner that reflects the art of nature.

While recreating rocks to mimic what he sees in nature is key to what he offers, Phillip cares much more about the theme and the message than any technical problems that may arise. His real concern is that people, especially families, get along and that humans appreciate and care for nature. “I want to change the quality of people’s lives,” he says.

Phillip has worked with a number of landscape architects over the years; most of them rely on his vast knowledge of rocks to create the desired effects. When he first started, he copied nature. However, he soon learned that he needed to recreate the spirit of the stone instead. He made it his mission to study books to help him better understand trees and stones. He also credits his work to magnificent landscapes, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as peaceful scenes such as a small country stream.

When working with landscape architects, he designs each rock formation in collaboration with the design team to create a geologic habitat that complements the project requirements. Maquettes (precise three dimensional sculptured models) provide the opportunity to clearly see what the rock will look like in all its detail, from any point of view. These maquettes detail the rock’s every crack, crevice, its shape, talus, and the geological metamorphosis of the formation. Once the maquette is approved by the owner, the project is built directly from the maquette.

As Phillip grew older and wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren, he found it more difficult to be so intimately involved in each job. He began looking for a partner, vowing that he would never compromise the quality of his work. He says that “over the years prospective partners suggested I compromise my work and the quality of my finished product, just so I could make a bigger buck. But when it comes to creating rock, I never compromise.” That tenacious attitude has given di Giacomo, Inc. the international reputation as the premier designer and constructor of naturalistic rock environments.

His search for a partner that matched with his philosophies ended in 2007. The partnership between di Giacomo and Colorado Hardscapes began in August of that year. Phillip says, “When Colorado Hardscapes said ‘great is not great enough’, I accepted the challenge. A great partner doesn’t ask you to compromise, that’s why my new partner is Colorado Hardscapes. And together we’re striving to be better than ever.” Colorado Hardscapes changed everything by changing nothing which gave Phillip more time to create and be himself. Phillip is excited about the partnership and says, “Some people think I’m demanding. They should meet my new partners.”

Phillip’s role in this new partnership is creating and consulting. He brought his crew of artisans to Colorado and they work together with Colorado Hardscapes’ crews. Phillip di Giacomo continues his creative work in the California studio, and continues to participate in project meetings. Recent public projects created by this new partnership include Asbury Green, Westminster City Center Park, and the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Mordecai Children’s Garden Pika Peak and Marmot Mountain. He says, “While everything has changed, we still make the best rock. Nothing has really changed.”

– Written and Edited by Colorado Hardscapes (Chuck Lau, Shirley Van Heukelem and Karen Van Heukelem)

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