Cell fate is regulated by extracellular environmental signals. Receptor specific interaction of the cell with proteins, glycans, soluble factors as well as neighboring cells can steer cells towards proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis or migration. In this review, approaches to build cellular structures by engineering aspects of the extracellular environment are described. These methods include non-specific modifications to control the wettability and stiffness of surfaces using self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) and polyelectrolyte multilayers (PEMs) as well as methods where the temporal activation and spatial distribution of adhesion ligands is controlled. Building on these techniques, construction of two-dimensional cell sheets using temperature sensitive polymers or electrochemical dissolution is described together with current applications of these grafts in the clinical arena. Finally, methods to pattern cells in three-dimensions as well as to functionalize the 3D environment with biologic motifs take us one step closer to being able to engineer multicellular tissues and organs.