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As Diplomatic Negotiations Go Forward, a New Tehran Emerges

The Iranian capital is embracing a more global approach to urbanism, from arts to architecture.
Cars drive past billboards in the Iranian capital of Tehran displaying art pieces from local and foreign artists.
Cars drive past billboards in the Iranian capital of Tehran displaying art pieces from local and foreign artists.Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, American journalist and author Mark Bowden traveled to Tehran, the political and financial heart of Iran and one of the the United States’ oldest adversaries. What he discovered was prosaic, a metropolis of uncomfortable dysfunction. An "inverse world," he called it. Revolutionary Islamist rule had evidently failed to deliver the utopian existence it promised. Here's how Bowden painted the Iranian capital in his 2006 book Guests of the Ayatollah.

The drab condition of Tehran was the result of decades of isolation. After the U.S. embassy was overtaken by thousands of protestors in 1979, Iran became a pariah of the West. But it is now negotiating its way back into the world order. If ongoing discussions with the United States and others prove successful, sanctions affecting the Iranian economy will likely be lifted, exposing the country to a forceful wave of globalization. But the shift from isolation to inclusion has already begun to transform Tehran.