MONDAY

Camilo Jose Vergara’s edifice complex is one of the most unusual I’ve ever heard of. The multitalented Vergara—photographer, sociologist, architectural historian—traverses America’s inner cities to document the slow decay of abandoned buildings. Using a finely honed geographical memory, Vergara returns periodically to the locations he’s already captured, documenting their inexorable arc of decline—sometimes to the point of complete disappearance. Although the roughly 300 architectural photographs in his 1999 book, American Ruins, exude a mesmerizing, Hopperesque feel, what really sets his work apart is the running commentary he provides. Vergara details the history of Detroit’s Brush Park (an eerie wasteland of once-grand mansions that morphed into one of the poorest ZIP Codes in the nation; pictured), recounts his own exploits as a trespasser (he rummages through leftover files in Newark, N.J.,’s Firemen’s Insurance Headquarters and examines old arrest records in a hellish, crumbling ex-jail across town), and records the self-destructive habits of the locals he encounters (including some who “do the doughnut”—drive stolen luxury cars at maximum acceleration in tight circles). Perhaps most welcome is Vergara’s wry sense of ironic detachment, which usually outweighs his nostalgic impulses. Consider Vergara’s description of the decaying facade of the Camden, N.J., Free Public Library. The three lasting inscriptions, he notes, include “the foundation date (July 4, 1904), the names Shakespeare and Longfellow (in blocky relief on the pediment) and ‘Joey-N-Rosa’ (spray painted on the columns).” Vergara lectures about urban decay at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 12, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $12. For reservations call (202) 272-2448. (Louis Jacobson)