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Self-assembly is a promising route for micro- and nano-fabrication with potential to revolutionise many areas of technology, including personalised medicine. Here we demonstrate that external control of the swimming speed of microswimmers can be used to self assemble reconfigurable designer structures in situ. We implement such ‘smart templated active self assembly’ in a fluid environment by using spatially patterned light fields to control photon-powered strains of motile Escherichia coli bacteria. The physics and biology governing the sharpness and formation speed of patterns is investigated using a bespoke strain designed to respond quickly to changes in light intensity. Our protocol provides a distinct paradigm for self-assembly of structures on the 10 μm to mm scale.