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A "two step" tissue engineering strategy was developed to promote rapid matrix accumulation in cartilage constructs in vitro. Chondrocytes expanded in monolayer were encapsulated and cultured in a genetically engineered, thermally sensitive elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) for ten days. The resulting cell-matrix pellets were recovered from the ELP and cultured on inserts for up to four weeks, where nutrient diffusion was not impeded by the presence of the scaffold. Approximately two-milligram (dry weight) tissue was generated that resembles native articular cartilage in histological appearance and biochemical composition. These results suggest that rapid and large cartilage construct formation is possible in vitro, following a period of early incubation and recovery from the thermally responsive ELP.