Brillembourg was born in New York to Venezuelan parents. He is the Founder of the Urban–Think Tank Design Group with offices in New York, São Paulo, Oslo and Cape Town. He has over 30 years of experience building architecture and urban design projects around the globe. He received both his Bachelor of Art and Architecture in 1984, and his Master of Science in Architectural Design in 1986 from Columbia University. In 1992 he received a second Master degree in Architecture from The Central University of Venezuela and began his Caracas practice with Brillembourg & Associates Architects. He is a member of the Venezuelan Architects and Engineers Association, the Swiss SIA, and the Norwegian NAL.
He began his teaching career in 1996 at the University Simon Bolivar and the Central University in Venezuela. In 2007 Brillembourg, as professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, founded the Sustainable Living Urban Model Laboratory (S.L.U.M. Lab). From 2010–2019, he held the Chair of Architecture and Urban Design at ETHZ and received the 2010 Ralph Erskine Award, 2011 Gold Holcim Award for Latin America, 2012 Silver Holcim Global Award for innovation in social design, and the 2012 Venice Biennial of Architecture Golden Lion. In 2018 the Empower Shack Housing project was shortlisted as an exceptional new building in the world by RIBA.
Between 2019– 2020 he was guest professor at the IOA Institute of Architecture at The University of Applied Arts Vienna and in 2021 Brillembourg became a visiting scholar at the GRIP Institute, University of Bergen, where he has founded the academic journal Parangolè about the urbanizing planet.