The motion of artificial molecular machines has been amplified into the shape transformation of polymer materials that have been compared to muscles, where mechanically active molecules work together to produce a contraction. In spite of this progress, harnessing cooperative molecular motion remains a challenge in this field. Here, we show how the light-induced action of artificial molecular switches modifies not only the shape but also, simultaneously, the stiffness of soft materials. The heterogeneous design of these materials features inclusions of free liquid crystal in a liquid crystal polymer network. When the magnitude of the intrinsic interfacial tension is modified by the action of the switches, photo-stiffening is observed, in analogy with the mechanical response of activated muscle fibers, and in contrast to melting mechanisms reported so far. Mechanoadaptive materials that are capable of active tuning of rigidity will likely contribute to a bottom-up approach towards human-friendly and soft robotics.