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From corbel arches to double curvature vaults: Data acquisition, structural analysis, conservation and restoration of architectural heritage masonry

Structures of architectural heritage have inevitably suffered damage with time and this is particularly true for vaults and domes. Earthquakes, soil settlements, material degradation and lack of maintenance are the main reasons for that. With Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11), countries have pledged to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Within this goal, Target 11.4 aims to “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage”. In Europe, inside cathedrals, church buildings, castles, towers and palaces the role played by curved masonry structures, in the form of arches, vaults and domes are among the most well recognized. Arches are also very common and of major importance in Roman and Medieval bridges, as well as in aqueducts. The evolution from trilithons to arches, passing through corbel vaults was a Roman intuition, Figure 1; the further refinement of the idea, achieved in the Middle Age and Renaissance, to conceive structures resistant thanks to their geometry lead in Europe –and Italy in particular- to build double curvature structures and domes with impressive artistic value. There is an imperative need to ensure that these outstanding structures continue to be an integral part of local life given the increasing level of support and expertise required to maintain them at a time when the limited resources in communities are becoming ever more stretched.

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