The cause of upper-crustal segmentation into rhomb-shaped, shear zone-bound domains associated with contractional sedimentary basins in hot, wide orogens is not well understood. Here we use scaled multilayered analogue experiments to investigate the role of an orogen-parallel crustal-strength gradient on the formation of such structures. We show that the aspect ratio and size of domains, the sinuous character and abundance of transpressional shear zones vary with the integrated :mechanical strength of crust. Upper-crustal deformation patterns and the degree of strain localization in the experiments are controlled by the ratio between the brittle and ductile strength in the model crust as well as gradients in tectonic and buoyancy forces. The experimental results match the first-order kinematic and structural characteristics of the southern Central Andes and provide insight on the dynamics of underlying deformation patterns in hot, wide orogens.