In terms of world-class innovation in the Middle East, most people probably think of Dubai before they’d think of Iran. However, Iran has produced and fostered incredibly talented individuals that shake up tradition, just as Dubai has done with its freewheeling, ultra-luxury architecture.

As with any culture, Iran’s counterculture is a force to contend with. Ashkan Sahihi’s ‘Kiss Kiss’ photography project, in which he is photographed kissing men and women with an open mouth, is certainly not something conservative Iranians would approve of. And in Tehran, fashion-savvy men sporting Western rocker hair must contend with the Basij religious police for their extreme hairstyles. All the while, however, there is change. Its most impressive form lies in architecture like Azadi (Shahyad) Square in Tehran or Kish Island, dubbed the “Dubai of Iran.”

Dubai is the world’s heavyweight champion when it comes to luxurious excesses. Some Dubai architects are so frustrated with the limitations of the naturally-created landscape that they seek to build their own. The Universe and Isla Moda are two such examples of ultra-exclusive manmade islands. It will be awhile before Iran reaches this height of opulent splendor--and perhaps that’s part of Iran’s appeal.