Masonry vaults have a great diffusion in the historical architectural heritage: in this work, their structural behavior is investigated. Attention is focused on lowered sail vaults composed by several brick arrangements, a typical nineteenth-century masonry vault which have great diffusion in Cagliari (Sardinia). The target is evaluating the role played by bricks arrangement in their mechanical behavior. A series of rigorous laser scanner surveys have been performed in order to obtain the effective geometry both at macro-level – the vault shape – and at micro-level – brick patterns. A NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B Spline) representation of the geometry is adopted and adaptive upper bound limit analyses are performed. NURBS entities, which are common in commercial CAD packages, have the great advantage to describe complex geometries such as curved elements, with very few elements. An upper bound limit analysis formulation is adopted, in which the NURBS elements forming the mesh are idealized as rigid bodies with dissipation allowed only along interfaces. The mesh constituted by few NURBS elements is progressively adjusted through a genetic algorithm in order to minimize the live load multiplier. Limit analysis is performed initially to determine the collapse multiplier of vertical loads, to assess the load bearing capacity of the vault, then attention is focused on differential settlements, that may be a serious hazard for this structural typology.
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