How This Italian-Designed Urban Resort in Cebu is Making Sustainability Stylish

It’s a surprise combination of Italian design and Philippine sustainability.
IMAGE Camilla Cordaro

Like the Eritrean capital it’s named after, Asmara Urban Resort in Cebu City is a product of the beautiful and functional tastes of Italian architecture and design.

The grand entrance to Asmara is made even grander by the double front doors

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ASMARA welcomes the elements of nature from the air, energy, light, water and of course people. Benvenuto!

A post shared by Asmara Urban Resort (@asmaraurbanresort) on

Asmara is the brainchild of Carlo Cordaro, an Italian corporate consultant who found a second calling in furniture design. A resident of the city of Cebu since 1995, his ongoing love affair with the bustling beachside metropolis is almost in its 25th year. But the city has become far more urbanized since he landed on its shores more than two decades ago, leading Cordaro to realize that it was time to give the residents an escape from the noise—right in the heart of Cebu.

Asmara's outdoor structure demands attention with its unique, angled timbers

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

The open air setup completes the "plaza" effect of Asmara

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

Instead of finding a location on the beach, which is around two to three hours away from the city due to traffic, Cordaro knew that the people he was targeting would gain more from the resort if it was only a short drive from their home.

“Asmara will be perfect in a beach front position, but there is a logic in going out of the box and doing it in the Cebu city center,” explained Cordaro.

And so began his mission to convert old tennis facilities into an urban resort, leading to Asmara’s opening in July of 2018. Since its launch, it’s become more than a resort—it’s now the home of the community’s stylish plaza, built with Eritrean architectural influences and the Italian need for community bonding.

The first floor lounge’s warm color palette is the perfect complement to the reverse pyramid timbers designed by Cordaro himself

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Pearl of the Red Sea

The streets of Asmara, the city, are home to some of the best of colonial Italian architecture. Its lasting neoclassic and modernist touches earned Asmara recognition from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The beautiful African city was also once the childhood home of Cordaro, which is where he drew much of his inspiration for the Asmara Urban Resort.

Paired with the modernist influences of Asmara, Cordaro was also inspired by the traditional Filipino lanai setup and design, which bears a resemblance to the verandas of Asmara and Massawa, once the “Pearl of the Red Sea.” Bridging the similarities of the Pearl of the Red Sea and the Pearl of the Orient, Asmara lets visitors appreciate the tropical weather in the comfort of its luxurious furniture.

The VIP room exudes a retro luxury vibe for some of Asmara’s most illustrious guests

The open setup of the resort managed to balance the need for space and the need to connect. This plays into Cordaro’s end goal: to create a place like the Italian plazas of olden days when people would gather, meet, and mingle, without the distractions of the digital world.

And why would they need the Internet when their environment is as cozy as the one Asmara offers? Located on Paseo Saturnino in Cebu City, Asmara unique structure demands attention. But it’s the interiors that invite people to stay. From the plush furniture of its homey open-air lounge to the retro atmosphere of the private rooms, the urban resort is a much needed getaway hotel that encourages visits to sit back and relax—or not. Its facilities include a squash court, tennis and badminton courts, swimming pool, and yoga area.


The second floor's flexible layout allows you to transform it from a yoga studio to a table tennis area

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

The resort's furniture ranges from the plush, luxurious lounge set near the grand entrance, to this cooler seating area that makes you feel you stepped into someone's Scandinavian apartment

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

Style and sustainability

The resort consists of a main building with the Italian restaurant La Piccola Roma (Little Rome), the Gravity Cocktail Bar, a kitchen, pizza area, function rooms good for 80 people, 16 bathrooms with changing rooms, and shower areas. And everything was constructed with the most up-to-date sustainable construction technology available.

Sustainability is part of Asmara’s DNA. The whole structure adopted the “glulam” or glued laminated timber technique. Steel beams require two to three times more energy and six to 12 times more fossil fuels to be made. In comparison, glulam has an overall better environmental profile that steel. According to Cordaro, the technique they used is stronger than cement and adds an earthquake resistant quality to the building. As for the wood itself, it’s also fire resistant and termite proof.

But the crowning glory of Asmara is its water catchment facility that was embedded into the roof and angled timber posts of the building. Designed in a reverse pyramid formation by Cordaro himself, it allows the resort to recycle 100 percent of rainwater through a 25 square meter roof opening (that also acts as the resort’s skylight), which lets the water fall into a cistern in the basement. The solar panels in the resort then pump the water to supply the entire resort.

Carlo with his daughter Camilla Cordaro, in between the reverse pyramid timbers he personally designed 

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

Behind Carlo and Camilla is Asmara's skylight that doubles as part of the water catchment facility

Photo by Camilla Cordaro.

Waste treatment and water treatment is also on Cordaro’s agenda once Asmara’s 15 rooms are completed in January. His goal? For Asmara to be “the first really eco hotel in the Philippines with the highest rate of sustainability in the building materials.”

But achieving this level of sustainability in his resort was not an easy feat. Cordaro recounted how he had to be firm about his vision of a truly eco-friendly resort with the team he was working with.

“I was in a ‘non-negotiable mood’ with the Italian civil engineers and so I told them I would have cancelled the project if [it was] not 95 percent similar to my pencil drawings!” he shared. “Safety first, but aesthetic [is] almost at the same importance level.”

And there you have it—how an Italian designer ensured that sustainability is possible alongside style. Asmara blends the best of Cebuano, Italian, and Eritrean influences, with a vintage vibe that still manages to welcome, not intimidate, its many loyal guests over the one year since it opened.


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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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