WASHINGTON -- They now come in a jaunty nautical style. And a somber federalist version. There's a shiny, sleek modernist type. Some are fashioned into giant, pseudo golf balls. Whether made of copper or bronze, aluminum or granite, all could stop an 8-ton truck barreling into them at 50 miles per hour.
Bollards, once relegated to parking lots, have become as fashionable and versatile as handbags.
''I'm bollard-happy. Unfortunately, business is booming," said Rick Adler, a California inventor. He found a gold mine -- shallow, fixed bollards that are certified by the US State Department for the highest level of antiterrorism security and that can be dressed up.
''It's like an exercise in artistry to match the bollard to a building," said Adler, whose company, RSA Protective Technologies, has created bollards disguised as country fences and supports for park benches.
The nation's capital is also the bollard capital: Thousands surround buildings, monuments, and museums. At about $7,500 apiece, they absorb a chunk of the area's homeland security budget.
Bollards took off when Timothy McVeigh ignited a truck in Oklahoma City in 1995. Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bison-size planters and antiram barriers multiplied. The problem was they looked hideous. The nexus of security and aesthetics confounded architects and designers, most of whom weren't schooled in blast radii and bollards.
''I think architects are really getting a lot better at dealing with that issue . . . We're sort of catching up to the problem," said Witold Rybczynski, a member of the US Commission of Fine Arts, an architect, and an urbanism professor who called bollards ''the steel crabgrass" of Washington. ''We're learning how to design with them."
''Before 9/11, we had done bollards, but it was mostly military. The military wanted a bollard that said, 'Go away,' " said Jerry Gibson, director of sales at SecureUSA in Atlanta. ''After 9/11, the demand changed . . . So we started making decorative bollards to match buildings and themes."
Those include bollards shaped like frogs, pandas, and camels, as well as some shaped as waist-high golf balls for the links on military bases.
''We live, eat, and breathe bollards," said David Dickinson, senior vice president of Delta Scientific, a California company his father started in the family's garage 18 years ago.
On Sept. 11, 2001, father and son were at a government test facility, rating their parking-lot bollards against crashes. ''At the time, we were making a brochure on aesthetically pleasing bollards for vehicle-traffic control, antitheft, things like that. The moment we heard about the attacks, we decided to put that crash-test picture in the brochure."
Orders tripled overnight.
''These bollards are effective, but they're not that pretty," Dickinson said. So their next-generation bollards -- at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in California, along Broadway in New York, at the National Archives in Washington -- were designed to accept a decorative sleeve, something custom-made in aluminum or bronze, with fluting, flourishes, even the state seal of California.
In Washington, legions of styles are proposed monthly: Tapered bollards at the Lincoln Memorial? Basket-weave bollards at the National Museum of the American Indian? Fluted bollards with the congressional seal on Capitol Hill? They can be cemented 8 feet below ground or can be removable or retractable. Some can drop or sprout in a three-second whoosh.
Most say bollards -- whose name is probably derived from the word ''bole," which means tree trunk -- are preferable to Jersey barriers, fat concrete planters, or trash trucks pulled into the driveway of the White House.