The Alternative Limb Project: Artistic Prosthetic Design

April 30, 2018 | | View Comments

Pioneering the art of prosthetic design, Sophie Oliveira Barata founded The Alternative Limb Project to empower amputees with her visionary designs that embrace creativity and dare her clients to stand out.

Blending Art and Design to Stand Out

Sophie’s unique blend in traditional crafting skills and use of advanced technology enables her to bring inventive limb designs to life, working with materials ranging from wood, glass, metal and more. With no limit to their creative possibilities, Sophie’s innovations are primarily driven by the tastes and personalities of her clients. She has worked with a number of amputees whose vision for their limb she brought back to life with incredibly delicate detail. Her work is hailed by the BBC and CNN as futuristic and pushing the boundaries of art. 

Watch Sophie’s TEDMED talk on the origin of The Alternative Limb Project here:


“I’m proud to be part of a movement that explores and celebrates body diversity.” – Sophie Oliveira Barata

The Vine is a collaborative project between Sophie, designers Dani Clode and Jason Taylor, and its wearer Kelly Knox. They created verdant armor inspired by terrestrial plants for the surface of the arm.The outer layer of the tendril arm is comprised of a botanical armor, while the structure underneath is made up of 26 individual vertebrae, which allow the movements of the arm to be fluid and almost ethereal. Kelly controls the arm by flexing her big toes, both of which are situated above force sensors embedded in her shoes.

Anatomical Leg was the first that used 3D printing and was designed for ex-serviceman Ryan Seary who lost his leg and arm due to an explosion on a high risk search mission. The design had to be removable and robust at the same time – Ryan wears the detachable leg cover over his C-leg prosthesis. The limb was made with 3D printed nylon, silicone, and lacquer in various colors. Sophie’s brother, an architect, helped her with the CAD drawings for the muscle plates.

Phantom Limb was designed for James Young at the request of gaming giant Konami. James, an amputee gamer looked toward the world of Metal Gear Solid for design inspiration, using cutting edge technologies. The 3D printed hand by Open Bionics receives signals from electrodes in the harness James wears to form various grips and gestures, using buttons in the forearm. The design also features “The Social Space”: a removable panel in the shoulder with magnets capable of holding small items like a camera or lighting display, which are charged and powered by the arm.

“Once I had read a great line which stuck in my head on a website where a prosthetic user said ‘I want to take off my limb and leave it in a room, and people will recognise it and know that belongs to me. It reflects part of my personality’. I totally connected with that idea as a biologist, knowing that all parts of our bodies can be recognised as being ours by our unique DNA, so why not add a personal stamp to our artificial limbs.” – James Young


All photos by Omkaar Kotedia, courtesy of the Alternative Limb Project

Bespoke Bodies: The Design & Craft of Prosthetics is a major exhibition and education program by Design Museum Foundation, on view at the Pacific Northwest College of Art from February 15 – May 9, 2018. From sculpting ocular prosthetics to crowdsourcing affordable 3D printed hands, this exhibition surveys past, present, and future of prosthetic design on a global scale. Visitors will explore evolution and design process behind a range of prostheses through visual stories, historical surveys, videos, and interactive models. Over 35+ case studies — spanning DIY-inventions from kids to mind-controlled bionic limbs — tell the stories behind the patients, clinicians, designers, and artists changing how we think about the impact of design, and ultimately, the future of our mobility.

Visit our exhibition website for the full list of programming and events related to this exhibition!