In this review, we examine how the extracellular matrix (ECM) of the lung contributes to the overall mechanical properties of the parenchyma, and how these properties change in disease. The connective tissues of the lung are composed of cells and ECM, which includes a variety of biological macromolecules and water. The macromolecules that are most important in determining the mechanical properties of the ECM are collagen, elastin, and proteoglycans. We first discuss the various components of the ECM and how their architectural organization gives rise to the mechanical properties of the parenchyma. Next, we examine how mechanical forces can affect the physiological functioning of the lung parenchyma. Collagen plays an especially important role in determining the homeostasis and cellular responses to injury because it is the most important load-bearing component of the parenchyma. We then demonstrate how the concept of percolation can be used to link microscopic pathologic alterations in the parenchyma to clinically measurable lung function during the progression of emphysema and fibrosis. Finally, we speculate about the possibility of using targeted tissue engineering to optimize treatment of these two major lung diseases.