My lab studies the design principles of cytoskeletal materials the drive cellular morphogenesis, with a focus on contractile machinery in adherent cells. In addition to force generation, a key feature of these materials are distributed force sensors which allow for rapid assembly, adaptation, repair and disintegration. Here I will describe how optogenetic control of RhoA GTPase is a powerful and versatile force spectroscopy approach of cytoskeletal assemblies and its recent use to probe repair response in actomyosin stress fibers. I will also describe our recent identification of 18 proteins from the zyxin, paxillin, Tes and Enigma families with mechanosensitive LIM (Lin11, Isl- 1 & Mec-3) domains that bind exclusively to mechanically stressed actin filaments. Our results suggest that the evolutionary emergence of contractile F-actin machinery coincided with, or required, proteins that could report on the stresses present there to maintain homeostasis of actively stressed networks.