Thomas Heatherwick is facing further humiliation over his designs for the British pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo after it emerged that part of the structural design may be ditched over safety concerns

Heatherwick, whose designs for the £12m project have been steeped in controversy, wants to put 8m-long spines all around the building, including the base, where they would act as structural support.

But it is understood steel columns may be used to hold up the pavilion instead because of worries over safety and “buildability” and a concern that the Chinese government may not approve the scheme.

A source close to the project said: “There are two options. One is more dramatic and one is safer. Heatherwick would prefer spikes all the way around but there are some technical problems so the design team is looking at options including the use of steel columns.”

A number of changes have already been made, including reducing the number of spines and making them from aluminium instead of bamboo.

A UK government spokesperson representing the project team said: “The design will be innovative, creative and in keeping with the architect’s vision. At the same time it is imperative we have a structure that is safe.”